« KYRGYZSTAN . The Project on Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing: about 3 000 children freed from work, the micro credits helping families to eke out | Main

Sue Longley, IUF, speech to WDACL 2010

Chairman, ladies and gentleman, my organisation, IUF, is the global trade union representing workers throughout the food chain. We are actively supporting the on-going work to develop a Convention and supporting Recommendation on domestic workers but on this occasion I want to speak about the situation in agriculture.

In 2010, as in 2006, the report of the Director General states clearly that agriculture remains the sector with the most child labour. Since 2006 there has been a slight decrease in the percentage but the absolute numbers remain the same. The
ILO estimates that 129 million girls and boys aged 5–17, equivalent to 60 % off all child labourers, are still working in agriculture, many of them under hazardous conditions

For the IUF the extent of child labour in agriculture and rural areas cannot be separated from the rural poverty and the lack of decent work in agriculture and rural areas.

Agricultural remains a domain of poverty, violence, child labour, death and injury on the job. Agricultural workers are still specifically excluded from labour legislation in some of the richest countries of the world, countries which are major producers and exporters of food.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in – it ranks alongside mining and construction and according to the ILO's own statistics is the sector with the most fatal accidents. Children working in agriculture are regularly exposed to pesticides, have to work with dangerous machinery and tools, have to handle heavy loads and are exposed to extremes of temperature and weather.

The report before us highlights that most working children in agriculture work on family farms and smallholdings – it is a grave mistake to assume this is benign child work – these children are often involved in hazardous work and deprived of the opportunity to go to school.

We also have clear evidence that children continue to work on plantations in tea, in sugar, in bananas, in cotton and in the production of other products that we all take for granted.

The IUF participated along with other trade unions at the Hague Conference and one of the things that concerned us there was that there was a reluctance amongst some governments and employers to have any sectoral reference in the Roadmap. We do not understand this position – children work in industries, in specific sectors and there need to be specific plans to deal with the sectors where most child labour takes place. The IUF welcomes recognition in the Hague Roadmap preamble that agriculture has the highest incidence of child labour but regrets that it is not more comprehensively tackled in the principles and action.

We however welcome the acknowledgement in paras 251 & 253 of the DGs report that meeting the 2016 target and the ultimate goal of the effective abolition of child labour require a breakthrough in agriculture and that it is now important that agriculture becomes a priority area in eliminating child labour.

To this end it is important that IPEC works with agricultural and rural workers' trade unions at all levels – grassroots through to international.

Mr Chairman, the need to focus on agriculture was however already recognised on WDACL 2008 when the International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in agriculture was established.

That partnership issued a statement to the Hague conference which pointed out that that the elimination of child labour in agriculture would be more rapidly achieved if there was policy coherence at national and international levels around a number of things including :

1. establishment and full application of laws on child labour in agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and effective enforcement of child labour legislation including through labour inspection;

2. rural strategies aimed at reducing poverty, improving rural livelihoods and mainstreaming child labour concerns into agricultural policy making;

3. strategies to improve access to quality and relevant education for all girls and boys in agricultural and fishing communities;

4. better health and safety in agriculture as one of the ways of eliminating hazardous work of children;

5. youth employment opportunities in agriculture and rural areas, including agricultural skills training.

We therefore welcome Minister Donner's statement this morning that what is needed is an integrated approach combining decent work, social protection and the elimination of CL. To this end we also commend the Plan of action for rural employment for poverty reduction adopted by this conference in 2008 and repeat the call made by the Workers Group then for the ILO to ensure adequate resources are allocated so that this comprehensive plan can be implemented.

Finally chair we welcome the acknowledgement in the report (para 141) that organized workplaces are inevitably free of child labour and that barriers to freedom of association in those areas of the global economy where child labour is most prevalent – in unprotected, informal work, in domestic service and in agriculture
– are also significant barriers to the elimination of child labour

In 1921, with the adoption of Convention 11, the ILO recognised the need for special attention to be given to ensuring what was then called "the right of association and combination" for agricultural workers. That need remains as pressing today as it was in 1921. Freedom of association, guaranteeing that agricultural workers have the right and can exercise the right to belong to a trade union and be represented by a trade union is desperately needed so that agricultural and rural workers can increase their bargaining power with their employers and have an effective political voice with governments to advocate for polices that will ensure decent rural employment for adults, quality education for rural children and the elimination of child labour in agriculture.

Thank you.