No Decent Work For Rural Workers

In a sobering revelation, the International Labour Organization (ILO) unveils a report indicating a substantial surge in work-related deaths, totalling close to three million each year. The findings of death of workers illuminate the enduring global hurdles in ensuring the health and safety of workers, prompting a call for immediate collaborative action.

Social protection for rural workers “remains a dream” even as 80 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas with several of them facing severe decent work deficits.

Majority of the rural workers face inadequate safety at work, low pay, lack of stability and security of work and excessive working hours, with women and young workers the hardest hit, according to a comprehensive report from the Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV) at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The report, Decent work deficits among rural workers is based on 16 case studies covering 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America.


The report highlights a significant concern of related to equality of opportunity and treatment for female workers. Child labour, forced labour and excessive hours were flagged in most of the countries studied, the report mentions. It points out that child labour was identified in agriculture in Armenia, cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, palm oil production in Indonesia, banana production in Ecuador, tobacco farming in Malawi, tea production in Kenya and sugar cane production in the Philippines. Issues related to forced labour were reported for tobacco farming in Malawi, sugar cane production in the Philippines, palm oil production in Indonesia, tea production in India and cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire.

In some sectors, children engage in uncompensated family labour, assisting their parents on smallholder family farms or in other types of small business. In other cases, non-family child labour arrangements were reported. Hazardous child labour – a worst form of child labour – was frequently noted, particularly in agriculture. In Armenia, for example, 95 per cent of the children engaged in hazardous work are employed in agriculture.

It also points out that the Ukraine study points out that “working conditions for women in rural areas are characterized by women being under constant strain; they have practically no time to rest, with their daily workloads exceeding 15 hours.”


The report further reads that men often have greater control over the means of production owing to gendered social/cultural customs or land titling practices. It also mentioned that women have less access to justice and redress than men, as reflected, for example, in the low representation of women in trade unions. Gender inequalities are compounded in many cases by the fact that senior leadership positions in communities, workplaces and trade unions are often held by men. It added.


Another issue highlighted is the exposure to chemicals. This poses serious health and other risks to agricultural workers, particularly to children and pregnant and lactating women. The report further says that exposure to agricultural chemicals also have a detrimental effect on the reproductive and non-productive health of both women and men. Meanwhile, ILO Director for the ACTRAV Bureau Maria Helena André in the Foreword said “Many of these workers are young and left school at an early age with little or no skills training. The transition from education to gainful employment is difficult, if not impossible, for many young people in rural areas.”


The deficits, according to the report, was due to a lack of job growth. However, in most cases the report mentions that deficits stemmed from a high level of informality, including the prevalence of both informal enterprises (typically smallholder farms) and informal or “casual” day labourers (hired without written contracts or on a daily or temporary basis).


In many cases, wages were reported to be at or below the national minimum wage (Armenia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, the tea sector in Kenya, and Malawi). It also said that some countries such as Ethiopia did not have a national minimum wage. COVID-19 pandemic caused a 39 per cent drop in income for rural workers, 7 per cent of the rural population lost their jobs, and poverty increased by 20 per cent.

The report pointed out that child labour increased during the pandemic in cocoa sectors in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, as school closures and the reduced availability of adult migrant labour prompted parents to put their children to work on the cocoa fields. Moreover. women bore the brunt of the pandemic’s Impact, either in terms of lack of access to stable employment because of layoffs and reduced working hours.  

She said in the Foreword that the report calls for a comprehensive approach to policy-making, for interagency cooperation, and for multi-stakeholder and multilateral tools in support of development. The economic, development, trade and investment, employment and social protection policies of countries must become more ambitious, as must their frameworks for a just transition to a greener economy and their labour market information systems.

  • Strengthening labour administration in rural economies; Improving the presence and capacity in rural economies of trade unions and other grassroots workers’ organizations
  • Formalizing informal enterprises and employment arrangements
  • Ratification of and adherence to relevant ILO Conventions and other International Labour Standards
  • Integrating rural economic sectors into formal and institutionalized social dialogue processes
  • Strengthening crisis preparedness and social protection in the rural economy
  • More research and policy analysis for better understanding and response to the needs and expectations of rural workers and their organizations.


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