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International Labor Day 2023: Agri-workers Renew Call For Rights Protection As Food & Climate Crises Worsen

The Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI) renewed its demand for substantial protection of the rights and welfare of agricultural workers amid worsening global food and climate crises. CAWI emphasized that, like the rest of working and rural peoples, agricultural workers are several times more vulnerable to hunger, poverty, and the impacts of a deteriorating planet.

The coalition made the statement as the world marks International Labor Day on May 1.

“Agricultural workers, long oppressed and exploited with meager wages, are among the worst to suffer hunger and poverty that is increasing yearly. Some of our members, for instance, report as low as three US dollars per day in wages,” said P.P. Sivapragasam, CAWI’s Secretary General.

United Nations (UN) data show that during the pandemic, the number of people in extreme poverty grew by 124 million while those who did not have access to adequate food jumped by 320 million. According to one study, the levels of extreme poverty are four times higher among agricultural workers than non-agricultural workers. Overall, up to 80% of the poor and 75% of the hungry are in rural areas.

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Aside from starvation wages and lack of protection for basic labor rights, a particular concern for agricultural workers is the socioeconomic and occupational health and safety impacts on their sector of an increasingly warming planet.

“Climate change is affecting us in multiple ways,” Sivapragasam noted. “It contributes to the further decline of our living conditions in terms of our livelihood and wellbeing. Agriculture work is already the most dangerous in the world, and rising global temperatures make it even more fatal.”

Research shows that occupational heat-related mortality is 35 times higher among agricultural workers than workers from other industries as they perform intensive manual labor under hot environmental conditions exceeding international standards.

“Highly exploitative wage arrangements common in many plantations and farms increase the vulnerability of agricultural workers. For example, the piece-rate system compels workers to work longer hours under the heat and take less time to hydrate and rest, as they desperately try to earn a little more for their families,” the CAWI official pointed out.

Hunger and poverty among agricultural workers will worsen further as the climate crisis intensifies. Climate disasters like drought, floods, storms, etc., disrupt agricultural production and massively displace agricultural workers. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), projected temperature increases will reduce global work hours by almost 2% by 2030, with agricultural workers accounting for 66% of the work hours lost.

“This means less income opportunities for agricultural workers, less capacity to buy food and afford the cost of living. It is their reality now, but it could reach even more unprecedented levels in the coming years if radical changes are not made in our agri-food systems. Such transformation must include protecting the rights of direct producers like agricultural workers,” emphasized Sivapragasam.

CAWI said it stands in solidarity and action with the movements of rural and all working peoples fighting for the future of the people and planet.

“We need to continue our struggle for better living conditions and the recognition of our rights as workers. We need to assert our right to living wages that will allow us and our families to live decently, have job security, organize and bargain as unions, access social services, and protect our occupational health and safety,” Sivapragasam said.

The coalition added that it would push through with its campaigns to stop the further expansion of big corporate and export-oriented plantations that exploit the workers, plunder the planet, and aggravate the climate crisis in the name of profits.

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