100 Years of Advancing Freedom of Association
ILO Convention 11’s Role in Promoting Rights for Agricultural Workers
July 27, 2021 (Read the full report here.)
The wording of ILO Convention 11 is short and to the point: International Labour Organisation (ILO) member states undertake “to secure to all those engaged in agriculture the same rights of association and combination as to industrial workers, and to repeal any statutory or other provisions restricting such rights in the case of those engaged in agriculture.” When the Convention was adopted in 1921, ILO constituents recognized that workers in agriculture could not access and exercise their fundamental rights in the same way as other workers, and they sought to address this discrimination through its adoption.
While Convention 11 was subsequently ratified by 123 countries, IUF affiliates still report significant blocks to freedom of association with few rural workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.
The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations further confirmed this in their 2015 report “Giving a voice to rural workers”: “A number of the same problems that existed previously have been reported to the Committee as current obstacles to the establishment, growth and functioning of rural workers’ organizations: the informality of the sector and heterogeneity of existing labour relations; severe socio- economic and cultural disadvantage; inequitable labour relationships and distribution of benefits; lack of education and awareness; prevalence of child labour, forced labour and discrimination; the particular disadvantage experienced by women; large numbers of particularly vulnerable or marginalized workers; and often insanitary, unstable and isolated living conditions.”
So in 2021, on the 100th anniversary of the Convention, is Convention 11 still needed? This study shows without a doubt that specific measures to ensure “the same rights of association and combination” for agricultural workers are as necessary and urgent today as they were in 1921.
Agricultural remains a sector with many decent work deficits: restricted access to freedom of association and collective bargaining; dangerous conditions of work on par with mining and construction; dependent on highly exploited and vulnerable migrant workers; and heavily reliant on child labour with 70% of child labour in agriculture alone.
We call on the ILO to join us in marking the 100th anniversary of Convention 11 with a concerted campaign to ensure its ratification and implementation. Governments must stop the discriminatory practice of excluding agricultural workers from the full protection of labour laws. Our experience has shown us that the most effective way to achieve equal protection is by ensuring that agricultural workers have the same rights to freedom of association as other workers; only then can they come together in trade unions to negotiate and win improved living and working conditions. We cannot wait another 100 years. The time is now.
Sue Longley General Secretary IUF