Farm Workers’ Global Struggle for Rights on the Job

Farm Workers’ Global Struggle for Rights on the Job

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.

South Africa, farm worker, Solidarity Center, unions

A South Africa farm worker, a member of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), clears brush on a farm near Krugersdorp. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Peru, palm oil workers, families, plantation

Vilda López, with her daughter, Celestina, is among Peruvian plantation workers represented by two unions, both Solidarity Center allies. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand

Dominican Republic, plantation workers, cocoa, farm workers, Solidarity Center

Tomas Reyes cuts cacao fruit in the Los Chepitos organic tree farm of Villa Altagracia. Cacao workers are members of Solidarity Center union ally Movimiento Campesino Dominicano (MCD). Solidarity Center /Ricardo Rojas.

Morocco, agricultural workers, Meknes, Solidarity Center

Agriculture workers in Meknes, Morocco, head to work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Hind Cherrouk

Mexico, child labor, harvesting scallions in Mexicali, Solidarity Center

Some 168 million children are forced to work around the world, such a this girl picking scallions in Mexico. When adults are not paid a living wage, children often work to help support the family. Credit: US State Department

Liberia, student, 17 year old girl, Firestone Junior High, Solidarity Center

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, attends school at the Firestone rubber plantation because her parents’ union, FAWUL, a Solidarity Center ally, negotiated a reduction in the high daily production quota of latex. Parents had been forced to bring their children to work to meet the high quotas.

Peru, palm oil workers, families, plantation, unions, Solidarity Center

Palm oil workers at Grupo Romero’s Grupo Palmas company live and work on the plantation with their families. The Solidarity Center works with their union to provide training and education for worker support on the job. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand

Tashkent, Uzbekistan, cotton picking, forced labor, unions, Solidarity Center

Each year in Uzbekistan, teachers and health care workers are among those forced to work for weeks picking cotton during the annual harvest. Credit: AHRU Cotton Campaign

Morocco, women, agriculture workers, union, bargaining agreement, Solidarity Center

Some 1,000 agricultural workers on five large farms in Morocco’s fertile Meknes region recently won their first collective bargaining agreement. Workers now receive bonuses if their work exceeds the norm and are provided with safety equipment and social benefits. Solidarity Center ally Confédération Démocratique du Travail signed the pact with the agro-industry employer Les Domaines Brahim Zniber in January. Credit: Solidarity Center/Hind Cherrouk

Dominican Republic, cocoa plantation worker, unions, Solidarity Center

Rafael Do–e Vi–a grafts cacao trees in the Los Chepitos organic tree farm of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

Peru, palm oil workers, plantation, woman worker, Solidarity Center

Workers of Palma del Espino arrive at Fray Martin camp, in San Martin, Peru, at the end of a work day. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durante

South Africa, cabbage farmers, unions, Solidarity Center

Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) members plant cabbage seedlings on a farm in Rustenburg, South Africa. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Peru, farm workers, unions, Solidarity Center

Using new techniques she learned from Solidarity Center training, including public speaking and one-on-one-contact to encourage self-confidence and participation, Violeta, a farm worker in Peru, leads workshops to empower women farm workers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Samantha Tate

South Africa cabbage planters. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Breaking Ground: Mexico’s Miners Push For Worker Rights

Breaking Ground: Mexico’s Miners Push For Worker Rights

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.

Mexico, gender equality, Solidarity Center, unions, miners

Miner Ileana Vasquez, repairing machinery nearly 1,000 feet from the surface, has worked three years as an instrumentalist and electromechanic. Vasquez and other women miners are challenging Mexico’s cultural and social taboos regarding women working in mines.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Juan Pablo Bautista Gómez, with the protective equipment he wears in the mine, gets set to leave for work from his home in La Paz, where he lives with his daughter and grandchildren. Gómez has worked in the mines since 1978 and is in charge of maintaining equipment and external logistics.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

In the Fenix Mine shaft, César Estrada Cueva from Guadalajara, Jalisco, is among 30 miners who work on each of three excavation shifts that keep production going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Mine worker Ruth Rivera, 45, a single mother of three, gets ready for work. Rivera, a union steward, has worked as a miner for six years and was a founding member of Mineras de Acero.

Ruth Rivera and her co-workers travel through the mines in a cart that transports all personnel.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Ruth Rivera (center) and her co-workers inside the Fenix mine, where the tunnel height varies between 59 inches and 62 inches.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Miner Ruth Rivera also is responsible for the delivery and recovery of personal protective equipment. The equipment allows miners to survive without air for a maximum of 60 minutes.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Workers operate a conveyor belt to extract rock and deposit it outside the mine. Miners load the rock onto trucks and drivers carry it to the processing plant.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

A crew of miners, a team leader and a supervisor organize their work at the excavation system in the Fenix mine shaft, where workers excavate phosphate rock, the basic ingredient for fertilizer.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Luis Alberto Bernal Díaz at the Fenix mine, working nearly 1,000 feet below the Earth’s surface.

Miners in the Monje mine shaft finish the morning shift and return safety equipment such as personal protective devices and rechargeable lamps.

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Lizbeth Garcia, a geological engineer, goes over an excavation map during a training for women mine worker members of Los Mineros. Credit: Julia Quioñez, CFO

Mexico, miners, Solidarity Center, Los Mineros

Women miners take a break during from mining, welding and related work to participate in a workshop on collective bargaining focused on strategies that include gender equality and family friendly language in contracts. Los Mineros members include Maria de los Angeles Nuñez de la Rosa (center), Alma Yadira Martinez Ramirez (top right) and Eliza Martinez Carrillo (top left). Credit: Los Mineros

Mexico, miners, gender equality, unions, Solidarity Center

In Mexico, Ruth Adriana Lopez Patiño, from Los Mineros, Julia Quiñonez, CFO, and Mariela Sanchez Casas, Los Mineros, all founded the “Mineras de Acero” (Women Miners of Steel) training program. In February, they participated in a tour of a gold mine during a training on gender equality and women’s leadership. Credit: Los Mineros

Reaching Kenya Communities on Realities of Migrating for Jobs

Reaching Kenya Communities on Realities of Migrating for Jobs

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.”

Partners in these outreach efforts include TRACE Kenya, Haki Africa, HAART Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Kenya, migrant domestic workers, Solidarity Center

Solidarity Center and our partner KUDHEIHA join with Trace Kenya, Haki Africa and Haart Kenya in a street mobilization in the Majengo area in Mvita, inviting the public to a labor migration forum in Majengo.

A survivor shares her experience working as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia with community members.

KUDHEIHA staff distributes the Solidarity Center information booklet for Kenya migrant workers in a market in Majengo during door-to-door outreach and invites market vendors to the public forum on labor migration at the chief’s office in Majengo.

Solidarity Center staff sticks a “Support Safe Migration” sticker on a tuk-tuk during the street mobilization in Majengo.

KUDHEIHA  staff distributes a Solidarity Center information booklet for Kenya migrant workers to mkokoteni riders (casual laborers), and invite them to the village chief’s office in Majengo for the public forum.

KUDHEIHA staff distributes safe migration booklets to passersby and invites them to the public forum on labor migration in Majengo.

KUDHEIHA staff invites a cyclist to the public forum in the chief’s office at Majengo.

Members of the public await the start of the public forum on labor migration in Majengo.

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