Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Decent Work: Tackling the Challenge of Quality Employment

This article explains the concept of "decent work" and the guidelines to tackle the global challenge of quality employment.
Women harvesting grapes in vineyard and putting the bunch of grapes into a plastic crate.
© Storyblocks

Food security, as well as poverty reduction strategies, are currently being jeopardized by the lack of decent employment opportunities (and poor employment quality) in rural areas.

This has become a great challenge to face, especially for many developing countries such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the world’s poor live and work.

Decent Work

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has formulated the concept of decent work to tackle the global challenge of quality employment and developed a decent work agenda. The latter rests on the following four pillars:

  1. Employment creation and enterprise development
  2. Social protection
  3. Standards and rights at work
  4. Governance and social dialogue
The definition of decent work defined by the ILO and endorsed by the international community involves opportunities for productive work for both men and women, where the conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity are guaranteed. It should also provide a fair income, along with security in the workplace and social protection for the workers’ families. These characteristics constitute the main ground for better personal development and social integration; guaranteeing equal opportunities for all; and providing people the voice and the freedom to express themselves, to organize and to participate in decisions that directly affect their lives.
While the conceptual definition applies to all human beings, all countries and all socio-economic contexts, the concept of decent work appears to be more difficult to operationalize in rural areas. Moreover, while the formal jobs are already legally subject to the respect of labour standards, the national laws do not usually cover the majority of informal rural jobs, small-scale producers and self-employed rural workers.
The FAO engages in different international processes regarding the the decent rural employment, such as:
  • The United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Youth (UN Youth-SWAP)
  • The UN System-Wide Action Plan of the Second UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017)
  • The ILO-led Social Protection Floor and Global Jobs Pact initiatives
  • The International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA)
  • The Global Migration Group (GMG)
The applied definition of rural employment was designed by the FAO to provide a general minimum standard for decent employment in rural settings and areas (DRE), where most food insecure and poor people live and work. The adaptation to the specific geographical, sectorial, and socio-economic contexts should however respect the four core labour standards, which are universally accepted as fundamental principles and rights at work.
This applied definition may prove useful in FAO’s corporate processes of planning, of knowledge generation, of policy dialogue, of standard-setting, as well as FAO’s decentralized offices. Furthermore, it could also be of support for policy makers, institutions of public, private or civil society that play a role in strategic planning for agricultural and rural development, and finally for organizations of employers, producers and workers.
In this frame, the term rural employment refers to any occupation, activity, business, work, or service conducted in rural areas for profit, remuneration, social or family gain. It aims to be applicable to a wide range of employment, both in the formal and informal economy, since rural labour markets are typically characterized by high levels of informality. So the definition applies to family workers, waged workers, salaried workers, and self-employed workers.
The applied definition of DRE identifies and focuses on six priority dimensions that are considered crucial in the process of achieving decent rural employment. Following FAO guidelines, employment (to be considered decent) should at least:
  • Respect the four core labour standards
  • Provide an adequate living income
  • Entail an adequate degree of employment security and stability
  • Adopt minimum occupational safety and health (OSH) measures, which are adapted to address sector-specific risks and hazards
  • Avoid excessive working hours and allows sufficient time for rest
  • Promote access to adapted technical and vocational training

1) Respects the core labour standards as defined in ILO Conventions, and therefore:

  • It’s not child labour, which involves any type of work that is inappropriate for a child’s age and could potentially harm children’s education, health, safety and morals. Even though some activities performed in specific contexts may be crucial for their survival and food security, child labour constitutes an enormous burden for economic and agricultural development, as well as an incentive for poverty in rural communities.
  • It’s not forced labour, which could take on the form of debt bondage, trafficking, as well as other examples of modern slavery. Forced labour is defined in Article 2.1 by the 1930 ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29) as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily. Some of the sectors in which labour is most common are the construction, agriculture, domestic work, manufacturing and entertainment fields.
  • Guarantees freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, promoting the organization of rural workers. Collective bargaining refers to all negotiations between employers and workers’ organisations. This is particularly important for determining working conditions and the terms of employment, along with regulating relations between workers and employers and relations between workers’ organisations and employers.
  • Does not discriminate at work on the basis of age, gender, race, social origin, sexual orientation, colour, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or other.

2) Adequate living income implies a just remuneration that is required for workers to provide themselves and their families with a basic, but decent, lifestyle, which is aligned with the economic development of the society in which he or she resides. An adequate wage is fundamental to prevent and protect workers from poverty.

3) An adequate degree of employment security and stability implies that jobs can be considered relatively secure and stable, based on the specific context and given the specificities of the rural areas and the agricultural sector in which workers operate. Access to social protection mechanisms and social services along the life cycle is fundamental in severe insecure working conditions and employment precariousness.

4) Minimum OSH measures underline the fact that agricultural and rural workers and employers:

  • Are educated in terms of safety measures and health matters, and are adequately prepared to safely handle relevant machinery, heavy equipment, appliances and hand tools
  • Are able to adopt preventive safety and health measures for themselves and for other workers in various steps of the supply chain, including the handling and the control of dangerous substances anche chemical, as well as the protection for pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Have access, if operable, to appropriate welfare facilities such as toilets, first-aid kits, lunch rooms etc…

5) Excessive working hours are established by national laws and regulations. In particular, intensive manual labour, if extended for too long, could lead to extreme fatigue of the workers along with accidents on the job. Agricultural work in rural areas involves long and heavy working hours, along with many risks such as the exposure to hazardous chemicals and machinery.

6) Technical and vocational training refers to the process of gaining appropriate knowledge and skills related to the world of work. This may include practical skills, know-how, attitudes and understanding relating to agricultural occupations and specific rural sectors. An adequate training could help workers to acquire specific skills and expertise and develop an entrepreneurial spirit in relation to the rural labour market. In this process, great attention is paid to women and youth who are particularly disadvantaged and have trouble accessing training and agricultural extension services.

This article is from the free online

Introduction to Food Science

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now