Women Working in Agriculture

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The agro-industrial sector has become increasingly occupied by temporary workers worldwide, hired under short-term contracts (if any contract) by employment agencies or subcontracted recruiters. Women are most vulnerable to the labor rights violations accompanying contract labor.  Women are often newer to the workforce then men or have less education, so they are stuck in the lowest rung of the employment latter where jobs are unstable and have fewer protections. The double burden of domestic work on women is one of the reasons for women’s over-representation in precarious employment. Women have been uniquely affected by the rise in unstable forms of employment, particularly since the global economic crisis. Read Oxfam's report on women and the global economic crisis here.

Pregnancy Based Discrimination

Women workers in many agro-export industries are often victims of gender based discrimination. It has become all too common for employers to require mandatory pregnancy testing and then to discriminate and fire workers according to the results.  Read the story of Peruvian asparagus worker, Rosemary, who was fired after becoming pregnant. Women whose pregnancies aren’t discovered by their employers are often faced with the impossible dilemma of being fired for revealing their pregnancy (maternity leave is virtually non-existent in the industry), or risk the safety of their fetus in order to put food on the table. Most of these cases of rights violations go unpunished because the high level of workplace intimidation, the prohibitive cost of legal fees, and the short statutes of limitations prevent women from being able to bring formal charges against their employers. 

Sexual Harrassment At Work
ILRF research has also shown that women are consistently victims of sexual harrassment at work. View ILRF's report revealing that  55% of female Ecuadorean cut-flower workers faced sexual harrassment on the job.  Honduran women, just like working women around the world, also face discrimination in the workplace.  They receive lower wages, are rarely considered for promotions, and are generally barred from higher paying positions.  Women workers in the Honduran melon industry have reported facing sexual harassment in the workplace from both coworkers and bosses.  Women are also not granted pregnancy leave, meaning that they must chose to either give up their income or continue to work while pregnant.

Women take action!
Women workers who have organized have been able to avoid being replaced by subcontracted workers. Amanda Camacho, a Colombian cut-flower worker recently led a successful union organizing effort at her company, Papagayo Farms. The union is nearly 90% women and Amanda is one of the many single mothers. Workers decided to organize when they saw their senior co-workers being replaced by workers from temporary agencies or labor “cooperatives,” a common union busting mechanism in Colombia.

A survey conducted in 2008 found that 35% of cut-flower workers in the main cut-flower growing region of Colombia had been subcontracted out through employment agencies or work cooperatives. Because Amanda and her co-workers successfully avoided being replaced, they have been able to negotiate for a modest raise, benefits and job stability. Single mothers particularly benefit from unions as they struggle to raise a family with one income.