The 89th Session of the International Labour Conference took place in Geneva from 4 to 22 June 2001.
Besides the usual discussions concerning “ongoing Conference business” with issues concerning budget, member fees, distribution of funds, and other organisational items, four committees were set up to examine
in depth the following specific topics: the Application of Standards, Health and Security in Agriculture, the Promotion of Cooperatives, and Social Security. Delegates from 160 countries attended all or part of the Conference, from government officials – including several Ministers – to trade unionists, from employers to NGO representatives and activists working in fields related to the topics under discussion, also, from journalists to students and trainees; staff from IBFAN-GIFA followed in particular the Committee on Health and Safety in Agriculture.
Close to three weeks after the opening of the Conference, on 21 June, a new Convention on Health and Safety in Agriculture (C-184) was adopted in Plenary by 402 votes in favour (2 against and 41 abstentions).
The Recommendation (R-192) that followed immediately also met with equal success (Yes: 418;
No: 0; Abstentions: 33).
GIFA-IBFAN concerns related to the Convention and Recommendation
The goal of the Committee on Health and Safety on Agriculture was to present a new Convention for adoption. Various issues were negotiated: medical insurance, machinery safety, handling of animals, management and handling of chemicals, agricultural installations, social security benefits, prevention of accidents, special provisions for seasonal workers, children, women….and even breastfeeding… IBFAN-GIFA staff was
concerned more specifically by articles directly linked to its work Ð thus the provisions on chemicals and
women in agriculture.
Chemicals (Articles 12 and 13)
As agriculture is the realm of numerous chemicals and waste products that can be extremely dangerous to
all human beings – in particular to agricultural workers of both sexes that are in direct contact with these products, as well as their children – we were very vigilant here. Research has proven that pesticides and
other persistent organic pollutants (or POPs) are damaging not only to womens and mens reproductive capacities, but also to the normal development of foetuses; and moreover, that these pollutants tend to accumulate in body fats and can be transmitted to nursing children through breastmilk. It is therefore of
primary necessity to protect as much as possible people of childbearing age from such poisons.
“Sound management of chemicals
Art. 12: The competent authority shall take measures, in accordance with national law and practice, to
(a) there be an appropriate national system or any other system approved by the competent authority establishing specific criteria for the importation, classification, packaging and labelling of chemicals used in agriculture and for their banning or restriction;
(b) those who produce, import, provide, sell, transfer, store or dispose of chemicals used in agriculture
comply with national or other recognized safety and health standards, and provide adequate and appropriate information to the users in the appropriate official language or languages of the country and, on request,
to the competent authority; and
(c) there is a suitable system for the safe collection, recycling and disposal of chemical waste, obsolete chemicals and empty containers of chemicals so as to avoid their use for other purposes and to eliminate or minimize the risks to safety and health to the environment.
Art. 13: National laws and regulations or the competent authority shall ensure that there are preventive and protective measures for the use of chemicals and handling of chemical waste at the level of the undertaking. These measures shall cover, inter alia:
(a) the preparation, handling, application, storage and transportation of chemicals;
(b) agricultural activities leading to the dispersion of chemicals;
(c) the maintenance, repair and cleaning of equipment and containers for chemicals; and
(d) the disposal of empty containers and the treatment and disposal of chemical waste and obsolete chemicals.”
Women workers (Article 18)
IBFAN-GIFA was also very concerned by the fact that the convention aimed at protecting the largest sector of workers world wide, with direct implications for the working conditions of women. In developing countries especially, agriculture is still, and by far, the most important sphere of occupation, and women form the basis
of its workforce. We were therefore particularly watchful of any provisions focusing on women workers and work situations which would influence their capacity to work, especially while pregnant or breastfeeding.
For us parts of this new text could be seen indeed as a continuation of C-183 on maternity protection.
Art. 18: Measures shall be taken to ensure that the special needs of women agricultural workers are taken
into account in relation to pregnancy, breastfeeding and reproductive health.”
Implications for future action: lets campaign for both C-183 and C-184
It is true that this Convention does not focus as much on women as Convention 183, and that the gains it provides for all workers in agriculture – women, men, children and children yet to be born – still have to be implemented in the real world, which will be a feat in itself. However it is an essential first step as it touches
the largest and most dangerous employment sector in the world, which occupies the highest numbers of women workers, often the poorest, the least protected and the least empowered. The Trade Union-, as well
as the several Government-representatives with whom we spoke, were very pleased with the new text which they considered to be much stronger than the previous draft, and saw it as an impressive advance in the right direction. We understood that efforts at all decision-making levels would be put towards the ratification of this new Convention-184…
We therefore believe that our work towards the ratification of C-183 on Maternity protection at the workplace would gain by including information in favour of the new C-184. It can indeed be argued that last years Convention on maternity protection would largely benefit in the months to come from the campaigning,
publicity and general positive outlook in favour of C-184, and that we should keep this in mind when planning our future work.
Contacts and information
For more information concerning the new Convention, please refer to the following websites: