Multi-stakeholder meeting focuses on the extension of social security to Iraq’s farm workers

Organised by the ILO with the support of the European Union, a meeting with multi-stakeholders in Basra centred around the challenges faced in the inclusion of farm workers in social security coverage and ways to address them.

Press release | 08 February 2023
Basra, Iraq (ILO News) Farm owners, representatives of the farmers’ association union, government officials, local Civil Society Organizations, academics and others joined a debate on the extension of social security in Iraq’s agricultural sector, organised by the ILO with the support of the European Union.

With a focus on agricultural areas in Iraq’s southern governorate of Basra, the event centred around the challenges faced by farm owners in the inclusion of their workers in social security coverage. It included discussions with the various stakeholders, such as those from government, employers’ and workers’ organizations and local implementing partners, on ways to address these obstacles.

Assistant Governor of Basra, Hassan Al Najjar reaffirmed that “the continued cooperation between the Basra Governorate, the ILO and the European Union to advance the agricultural sector, in all its sub-sectors, will allow us to identify and further promote the positive elements, and address the negative ones.” Mr. Al Najjar also commended the sessions organised by the ILO on rights at work and social security in the agricultural sector of Al-Zubair District of the Basra Governorate, conducted with farm owners and workers in the area, and reiterated the importance of expanding coverage of social security to the rest of Basra.

According to a recently published ILO study, on National Regulatory Frameworks and Structures in the Agriculture Sector, Iraq’s agricultural sector suffers from lack of regulatory frameworks and support structures to govern agriculture activities, protect its workforce, and address concerns collectively. There are persistent decent work deficits at the farm level including insufficient occupational safety and health measures and lack of social protection coverage.

Findings from the Labour Force Survey 2021 indicate that 98.1 percent of those engaged in agriculture hold informal jobs. Currently, coverage of social security for workers in the informal sectors is very limited, which puts farmers and their family at higher risk of poverty related to economic shocks and lifecycle risks.

The event also reviewed current activities being implemented by the ILO and its partners, under different projects funded by the European Union, to extend social protection and improve working condition in Iraq’s agricultural sector, in line with International Labour Standards.

“Social security for the Iraqi citizens is a very important topic for the EU. The EU is keen to ensure that Iraq develops a sustainable and inclusive social protection systems, and we work closely with the Government of Iraq to achieve a fair system, also in the agricultural sector that employs roughly 20 percent of the country’s workforce,” said Barbara Egger, Head of Cooperation at the European Union Delegation to Iraq.

“Extending legal coverage of social security to workers, particularly those in informal employment, is a key priority for the ILO and its tripartite constituents in Iraq, as we continue to work collectively on different fronts to strengthen the adequacy, coverage and sustainability of the social protection system,” explained ILO Country Coordinator Maha Kattaa. “These efforts go hand-in-hand with efforts to enhance labour governance and working conditions for workers particularly those in the agriculture sector – a sector which provides a critical source of employment and income but which suffers from a number of decent work deficits including lack of social protection coverage.”

Under a social protection reform programme, the ILO has been providing technical support to the government in the review of the draft retirement and social security law. The draft law will bring in several changes that would make the Iraqi social security legislation closer to meeting the minimum requirements of International Labour Standards, including extending coverage to informal economy workers including those in the agriculture sector.

Parallel to this work, the ILO is supporting the production of various pieces of research to inform decision-making processes, including those on challenges and opportunities with regards to social security, bringing together a portfolio of research from a wide range of academics.

A key element under the framework of “Enhancing labour governance, inspection and working conditions in response to COVID-19 ” is building the capacities of inspectors on modern labour inspection procedures, and ways to strengthen and enforce labour regulations and procedures in Iraq.

In addition, the ILO has been working with workers, farm owners, cooperative members, union members and community leaders on the farm level to improve working condition on farms, through improved Occupational Safety and Health, gender equality, business skills, and International Labour Standards. More recently, a Code of Conduct for Fair Recruitment was developed in consultation between the ILO and its constituents, to promote the principles of fair recruitment in accordance with Iraqi legislation, International Labour Standards, human rights principles and conventions.

Discussions also focused on the role of tripartite partners and key stakeholders in working collectively to promote decent work in the agricultural sector in Iraq, through the development of consolidated programmes and work plans to assess and address the social protection needs and gaps of the sector’s workers.