Agriculture employs nearly half of the world’s workforce. Low-paying and seasonal, it also is one of the three most hazardous sectors for workers (along with construction and mining), according to the International Labor Organization.
Agriculture workers are often denied decent wages. This is especially true for women, who, despite their predominance in the sector (50 percent to 70 percent of informal agriculture workers are women), are paid up to 50 percent less than their male co-workers for doing the same job. The precariousness of this work is compounded by informal employment arrangements or agreements with labor brokers, violence and harassment on the job and the unpredictability of the seasons when cash crops are planted and harvested.
Despite the hardships, agricultural workers—cacao harvesters in the Dominican Republic, vegetable farmers in South Africa and Moroccan vineyard and olive grove laborers in Meknes—are joining with unions and worker associations to improve their workplaces and win rights on the job.
Mine workers in Mexico labor in difficult and sometimes deadly working conditions. But through their union, the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Similar Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM, known as “Los Mineros”), they are winning collective bargaining pacts that include significant economic benefits, essential safety and health protections, and other fundamental rights on the job.
The union is breaking ground by raising the visibility of the work and activism of women members through the Mineras de Acero (Women Miners of Steel) leadership and gender equality training, a program jointly developed by the Solidarity Center, United Steelworkers (USW), Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (Border Committee of Workers, CFO) and Los Mineros.
During the most recent collective bargaining training, union members looked at family-friendly contract language and strategies for promoting gender equality and ensuring that women’s key issues get on the list of bargaining priorities—and stay there. Female miners and their sisters in allied industries are building a network throughout the national union as a result of this work.
In this photo essay, Los Mineros members working in the Fénix and Monje phosphate mines in La Paz, a large commercial center in the Mexican coastal state of Baja California Sur, demonstrate the daily courage and quiet dignity of miners at work.
Photos by Roberto Armocida for the Solidarity Center, unless otherwise specified.
In Kenya, where 2.5 million people toil in irregular, precarious jobs—compared with 900,000 in the formal sector—many workers are unable to support their families and so become targets for the labor brokers who haunt villages and cities and convince them to get jobs abroad. But as migrant workers, they often experience harsh conditions and lower wages than promised by labor brokers.
In recent weeks, the Solidarity Center and our long-time partner, the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotel, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), joined with other local migrant worker and anti-human trafficking organizations to hold a series of outreach and education efforts in the Mombasa area among local communities, culminating in three migrant worker rights forums.
Although many workers here travel abroad for jobs, primarily to Arab Gulf countries, customs or embarrassment may prevent them from sharing their experiences, and many residents do not have access to credible information on migration. As a result, communities are unaware of the hazards involved in migrating for work.
Before each event, KUDHEIHA organizers went door to door and distributed information pamphlets on the street to provide people with information about the forum and invite them to join.
“Accomplishing gains for domestic workers [in Kenya] seemed impossible, but it was done,” says Livingstone Abukho, KUDHEIHA Mombasa chairman. “Therefore, it can be done for migrant workers.”
Samantha Tate contributed to the FES monthly magazine, InterQuorum, which focused the entire edition on youth and decent work in Latin America. Her article appears in the print and online versions, in Spanish.