Official statistics show 500 people losing lives every year in agriculture and forestry in the EU and another 150,000 suffering accidents. Many more fatalities still go unrecorded in these two top-risk sectors.
While these deaths and injuries continue the EU has taken two steps which ought to impact on health and safety in agriculture:
- The inclusion of social conditionality in CAP
- The adoption of ‘vision zero’ in the EU strategic framework on health and safety 2021-27.
There has been much talk in occupational health and safety circles about zero death at work, but much less in agriculture. We, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), with the support of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), would like to open a dialogue with you about adopting the ambition of zero death in agriculture as a top priority.
Every death, and most accidents, at work are preventable. Action to achieve Zero Death would greatly reduce accidents and risk of occupational disease. A serious commitment to zero death requires a similar commitment to zero occupational illnesses in European farming and forestry.
We call on you to endorse the ETUC and EFFAT’s call for Zero workplace deaths by 2030, and to work with us to convince the EU institutions to take a lead in ensuring that the actions needed to achieve zero death are carried out.
We believe that there are three key actions towards Zero workplace deaths by 2030 in agriculture:
- Social conditionality, a game changer for farm workers’ health and safety The inclusion of social conditionality in the new CAP has been one of the greatest reforms of this key EU policy as well as a great news for millions of farm workers in Europe. Now it is crucial to ensure that social conditionality works in practice:
a) through effective, dissuasive and harmonised sanction sand a well-functioning coordination between authorities responsible for controls on working conditions and CAP paying agencies
b) through the widest application of the clause before 2025, the year where social conditionality will have taken effect in all member states. The Commission can support member states in achieving these two objectives.
- Labour Inspections are very infrequent in agriculture. Trade unions strongly endorse the ILO recommendation for a minimum of 1 labour inspector per 10,000 workers and calls for the complete ratification and full implementation of ILO Convention 129 Labour Inspection (Agriculture) in Europe. Moreover EFFAT has put forward a clear demand to adopt an EU Directive on labour inspections and complaint mechanisms to strengthen the frequency and effectiveness of controls on working conditions.
- Pesticide reduction: Evidence exists that pesticide use is associated with an increased risk of cancers such as prostate cancer, as well as Parkinson’s Disease. We call for the reduction and progressive elimination of pesticide use and exposure by replacing plant protection products with alternative methods.
EFFAT supports the objectives of the newly proposed Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulation (SUR) that aims to reduce pesticide use and risks by 50% before 2030 and calls for quality job creation and just transition measures including socio-economic impact assessment, anticipation of change and the involvement of trade unions in the transition process.
Moreover, Member States should urgently put in place accessible and effective mechanisms to report and recognise occupational diseases linked to pesticide use, following the best practice examples of France or Italy. What is more, we call on the EU to immediately introduce a ban on the export of pesticides already banned in Europe. We cannot accept that farm workers and local communities in third countries are contaminated on a daily basis by products already banned, but still produced, in the EU.
Other important measures to achieve zero death in farming and forestry include:
- Adequate protection for all people active in farming including those with precarious work contracts. Self-employed, mobile, seasonal or migrant workers, family workers, farmer or farm workers all deserve their lives and livelihoods to be safeguarded. All countries could follow the example of Ireland where the self-employed in farming are protected in a similar way to farm workers under national health and safety laws.
- Come clean on statistics and reporting of work accidents. Eurostat excludes many deaths from the data on fatalities in agriculture because the victims are not officially classified as workers. It is estimated that up to 90% of accidents go unreported in some parts of the agriculture sector. Under-reporting must be tackled.
- Ratify and implement ILO Convention on health and safety in agriculture (C184). All EU countries should follow the lead of the 7 EU member states that have adopted ILO Convention on health and safety in agriculture (C184). This Convention paves the way for a more comprehensive framework to protect working conditions and fight against bogus self-employment in the primary sector. The Commission and the European Parliament should push Member States on the ratification of this Convention.
The personal costs of injury and ill health can be devastating. Life is never the same again for family members left behind after a work-related death, or for those looking after someone with a long-term illness caused by their work. Working people in agriculture have the right to return home from work safe and sound. They expect immediate responses from the EU and the member states to ensure their work activity become safer. This is why we are asking you to commit to zero death in farming and forest and to meet us to discuss how this can be achieved.
Deputy General Secretary