European agriculture social partners sign first sectoral framework agreement

The European-level social partners in the agriculture sector signed the first sectoral "recommendation framework agreement" in July 1997. The accord is concerned with the improvement of paid employment in agriculture in the Member States of the European Union.

On 24 July 1997, GEOPA- the Employers' Group of the Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union (COPA) - and the European Federation of Agricultural Workers' Trade Unions (EFA) - one of the European industry committees of the European Trade Union Confederation- signed the first European sectoral framework agreement of its kind in the presence of CommissionerPadraig Flynn. The initiative builds on previous "agreements" on working time concluded between the social partners in the sector in 1978, 1980 and 1981, as well as a joint declaration on employment in agriculture presented to the "European social conference" held in Paris on 30 March 1995.

The "recommendation framework agreement" seeks to contribute to the improvement of paid employment in agriculture in the Member States of the European Union. Significantly, it includes recommendations on the adaptation of working time and supplementary provisions relating to working conditions. A 1995 Commission report estimates that there are approximately 2.5 million paid employees and around 8 million farms in the EU. Most farms are family farms, but paid employment accounts for a significant proportion of employment in the agricultural sector in Europe.

The agreement highlights the responsibility of the social partners to play their part in the improvement of the employment situation in Europe and to support the national legislative frameworks in this area. It acknowledges that it will be possible to maintain agricultural employment in the long term only if agricultural holdings become more competitive. In this respect, the accord points to the importance of redoubling efforts to reduce interest rates, make productive investments, produce technological and biotechnological innovation and protect the environment. Particular importance is also accorded to finding new ways of organising working time to meet the needs of employees and encourage employment generation in the sector.

Under the heading "provisions relating to paid employment in agriculture", the signatory parties agree to take concerted action to implement measures to improve the employment situation in the agricultural and rural sector in the EU. These measures should be concerned with:

  • improving the image of employment in agriculture;
  • promoting vocational training and skills;
  • preventing occupational risks specific to the sector;
  • identifying and implementing new types of contracts which both enhance competitiveness and boost employment in the agricultural sector, such as fixed-term contracts, part-time work, seasonal work and temporary work;
  • reorganising and improving the labour market; and
  • the demands of society concerning the environment and town and country planning.

The agreement also calls for a wide exchange of information on national, regional and local good practice. It recommends the joint promotion and development of projects and initiatives under all Community funds aimed at consolidating and promoting agricultural and rural employment in Europe. The social partners also look for the development of employment-creating "synergies" with other sectors such as rural tourism, the environment and regional development.

The Community is requested to take the need to enhance competitiveness into consideration when defining the Common Agricultural Policy. A renewed request is made for the extension of the early retirement scheme in Regulation 2079/92 to agricultural workers. The social partners argue that it is also crucial to tackle the problem of illegal and undeclared employment in the sector at European, national, regional and local level, and call on the respective authorities to take relevant steps to combat this problem.

In relation to the adaptation of working time, the agreement recommends the institution of a maximum annual working time of 1,827 hours, having regard to national, regional and/or local practices. The supplementary provisions relating to working conditions cover the issues of guaranteed income, overtime, rest periods, night work and periods to be considered as working time, as well as paid leave and public holidays.

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