Solution Cluster 4.2.3

Empowering Food System Workers Through Strengthening Workplace Organisation and Effective Social Dialogue

Effective social dialogue in the agri-food sector can help ensure stable labour relations and boost productivity and quality of work life. It can contribute to collective bargaining, which plays a crucial role in reaching consensus on issues of concern to workers and employers and in raising awareness about their rights and obligations. This game-changing idea concerns strengthening social dialogue through the establishment of new social dialogue mechanisms, improvement in the functioning of existing ones, as platforms for giving plantation workers and small-scale producers a voice in social and economic development and ensuring that development is inclusive.

For constructive social dialogue in agriculture and the rural economy in general, it is crucial to have strong, independent, and effective organisations of rural and agricultural workers and employers; willingness and commitment of all parties; and an enabling legal and institutional framework. As part of this solution cluster, promoting policies and action that (i) support the establishment, growth and functioning of rural workers’ organisations and guarantee the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining of all workers; (ii) build the capacity of cooperatives and other membership-based organisations of producers and agripreneurs, including women and youth led organisations and networks; and (iii) empower producers to organise into formal associations, will enhance their capacity to meaningfully participate in industrial relations and contribute to improving rural livelihoods and enhancing food security. Strengthening organisation among agricultural wage workers, who face high levels of working poverty and inadequate working conditions and access to rights, would help to make their voices heard, including in policy-making processes that affect their work and lives. It would enable small-scale producers and farmers to realise economies of scale, increase their bargaining power in the market, pool and share resources and knowledge, and address other labour issues such as child labour and gender discrimination in their sector.

About this Solution Cluster

There is a widely accepted view that social dialogue is essential for achieving effective, equitable and mutually beneficial outcomes for governments, employers, workers, and wider society. However, workers in agriculture and related sectors are often excluded from the process and scope of social dialogue at all levels. Furthermore, limited organisation and voice among rural workers and employers prevents them from engaging in social dialogue and influencing legislation, policy, and decision-making processes that could contribute to advancing sustainable livelihoods and food systems. Limited organisation among small-scale producers as well as micro and small agripreneurs negatively impacts their ability to improve their production and increase incomes.

Legislative or administrative obstacles often impede the ability of workers to exercise their right to organise and bargain collectively. Women, youth, and migrant workers, who form a large part of the agricultural workforce, often face additional challenges in exercising their rights and voices. For example, one of the reasons why the agriculture sector is underperforming in many developing countries is because women do not have the same rights and access as men to the resources, inputs, services, and opportunities that they need to be more productive. Low literacy and education levels, as well as poverty, informality, and poor working and living conditions exacerbate these barriers in access to rights for many agricultural and rural workers. As a result, there are relatively few agricultural trade union members compared to the total number of workers in the sector.

The ILO has been supporting social dialogue between government, employers, and workers and strengthening workplace organisation as an effective means for promoting decent work in different sectors of the economy, including the agri-food sector. A significant number of development cooperation projects promoting decent work in agriculture and the rural economy through social dialogue have been implemented in different countries and regions. For example, the ILO has been supporting the establishment and functioning of multi-stakeholder dialogue forums, which bring together ILO tripartite constituents – governments and employers’ and workers’ organisations – and other important actors (e.g., NGOs, academia, private compliance schemes, etc.) to jointly formulate effective strategies to promote decent working conditions, competitiveness, and compliance in the large agri-food (plantations) sector. This process starts with a participatory diagnostic exercise on working conditions in that specific sector to offer stakeholders a transparent assessment of the sectoral realities. Based on the opportunities and challenges identified in the diagnostic process, national tripartite constituents engage in social dialogue to develop plans of action, which serve as a basis for the implementation of development cooperation programmes on the promotion of decent work in these sectors. This approach has been successfully implemented in various countries and sectors.

The ILO has also been supporting Local Employment Partnerships, another innovative approach that provides integrated solutions to promote decent work in the rural economy, offering real employment policies and active labour market measures, as well as catalysing investments and building capacity of local stakeholders. For example, the approach has recently been implemented in one of Moldova’s regions, where – led by local partners, under the aegis of territorial tripartite commissions for consultation and collective bargaining – it contributed to the creation and formalisation of jobs; the launch of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones in sectors with job-creation potential (agri-food and rural non-farm); the formation of new collective business models; and strengthened capacity of cooperatives engaged in food production to improve productivity and income prospects of small producers as well as micro and small agripreneurs. The approach was unanimously praised by national and local stakeholders for its effectiveness in providing locally devised solutions regarding employment and formalisation.

Focus on social dialogue at the FSS should contribute, inter alia, to increasing awareness among stakeholders on the effectiveness of social dialogue mechanisms/platforms as a means of identifying challenges and common sustainable solutions in the sector; strengthening the commitment of governments to promote social dialogue through the creation of an enabling environment and institutional frameworks; promoting policy coherence; strengthening international partnerships and scaling up the implementation of development cooperation programmes that utilise social dialogue to address decent work and other deficits facing the sector; and strengthening commitment and willingness of businesses to engage in social dialogue. This should in turn lead to the establishment of new social dialogue mechanisms, or improved functioning of existing ones at various levels (international, national, sectoral, local, or enterprise); increased participation of stakeholders in discussions and policy-making processes; and progress in addressing decent work challenges facing the sector, thereby promoting its sustainability and growth. At the workplace/enterprise level, social dialogue can contribute to improved productivity, a harmonious working environment, reduction of absenteeism, fewer conflicts and sustainable solutions to challenges at the workplace.

Action aimed at improving legislation and formulating policies and interventions for strengthening organisation in the agri-food sector should enable agricultural workers to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, thereby helping to secure decent conditions of work and contribute to stable labour relations in the sector and, ultimately, to a successful transformation of food systems. Cooperatives and producer organisations will help to empower smallholder producers, providing them with improved economic conditions as well as a collective voice and power to defend their interests.

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