Industrial relations in agriculture

  • National Contribution:

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Date of Publication: 09 November 2005

Dr. Luminita Chivu, Dr. Ciutacu Constantin, Dr. Diana Preda

Download article in original language : TN0509101S.DOC

The agriculture sector, which employs around 5% of the EU workforce (and a considerably higher proportion in the new Member States and candidate countries), is currently going through major structural changes, not least because of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Union's recent eastward extension. This study examines industrial relations in agriculture in the EU, plus Bulgaria, Norway and Romania, looking at issues such as: employment and wages; sector-specific laws and regulations; the social partners; collective bargaining; other forms of social dialogue and consultation; and conflicts and disputes. It finds that industrial relations in the sector are distinctive, not least because of the high-level of self-employment and generally low proportion of employees.

This comparative study examines industrial relations in the agriculture sector (defined as NACE sector 01) in 23 European Union (EU) Member States (Luxembourg and Portugal being the exceptions), plus two candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania) and Norway. The study is based mainly on contributions from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) national centres in the countries concerned. It looks at:

  • basic employment and economic data on agriculture;
  • the specific legal framework for industrial relations in the sector;
  • wages;
  • trade unions and employers' organisations in agriculture;
  • collective bargaining;
  • other forms of social dialogue and consultation;
  • conflicts and disputes; and
  • current issues in agricultural industrial relations.

Brief details of the nature of agriculture in each of the countries examined are provided in an annex to this study - this covers: the amount of land farmed; the main types of crops and livestock; the number, structure and average size of farms; mechanisation, chemical fertilizers/pesticides and IT systems use; and farm incomes

The agriculture sector

In 2003, the 26 countries covered by the study had over 477 million inhabitants in total, of whom 203.6 million represented the employed population. Agriculture provided jobs for 13.3 million people, representing 6.6% of total employment - see table 1 below.

The national distribution of employment in agriculture is extremely uneven. There are 5.8 million people employed in agriculture in the 13 'old' Member States considered, where employment in agriculture makes up only 3.6% of total employment - the level of employment in agriculture ranges from 1.2% in the UK to 5.3% in Finland, 5.5% in Austria, 5.6% in Spain, 6.4% in Ireland and 16.3% in Greece. In the 10 new Member States, agriculture provides jobs for about 3.6 million people - an average of 12.4% of total employment and ranging from 18.7% in Lithuania and 18.2% in Poland to 8.4% in Slovenia, 6.3% in Estonia, 6.0% in Slovakia and 4.5% in the Czech Republic. In Bulgaria and Romania, the number of people working in agriculture totals 3.85 million, which is more than in the 10 new Member States added together and the equivalent of 66% of the total employment in agriculture in the 13 old Member States.

Table 1. Agriculture - total employment, contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) and productivity compared with national average, 2003
. Employment in agriculture. forestry. hunting and fisheries Gross added value in agriculture Agriculture's contribution to GDP Gross added value/employed in agriculture GDP/employed in total economy
Thousands % of total employment EUR millions % EUR thousands EUR thousands
Austria 204 5.5 2,722 1.2 13.3 61.2
Belgium 70 1.7 2,680 1.0 38.3 65.1
Denmark 89 3.3 2,997 1.6 33.7 69.5
Finland 126 5.3 1,466 1.0 11.6 61.7
France 1,042 4.3 30,604 2.0 29.4 63.1
Germany 871 2.4 15,704 0.7 18.0 61.8
Greece 654 16.3 8,228 5.4 12.6 38.0
Ireland 113 6.4 2,598 1.9 23.0 77.4
Italy 1,040 4.7 29,092 2.2 28.0 59.8
Netherlands 218 2.7 9,165 2.0 42.0 56.8
Spain 934 5.6 26,971 5.4 28.9 29.9
Sweden 111 2.5 1,579 0.6 14.2 59.3
UK 356 1.2 11,267 0.7 31.6 54.3
Total 13 old EU MS 5,828 3.6 145,073 1.6 24.9 56.5
Cyprus 17 5.2 423 3.7 24.9 35.0
Czech Republic 212 4.5 866 1.1 4.1 16.7
Estonia 37 6.3 175 2.2 4.7 13.5
Hungary 211 5.4 1,953 2.7 9.3 18.5
Latvia 146 14.6 211 2.1 1.4 10.0
Lithuania 276 18.7 421 2.6 1.5 11.0
Malta 4 2.5 69 1.6 17.3 27.0
Poland 2,485 18.2 4,209 2.3 1.7 13.4
Slovakia 130 6.0 354 1.2 2.7 13.6
Slovenia 75 8.4 387 1.6 5.2 27.1
Total 10 NMS 3,593 12.4 9,068 2.1 2.5 15.2
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 9,421 5.0 154,141 1.6 16.4 50.2
Bulgaria 320 11.1 1,532 8.7 4.8 6.1
Romania 3,530 37.7 5,653 11.2 1.6 5.4
Total CCs 3,850 31.4 7,185 10.6 1.9 5.6
Total EU 23 CCs 13,271 6.6 161,326 1.7 12.2 47.4
Norway 66 2.9 1,947 1.0 29.5 85.6
Total 26 countries 13,337 6.6 163,273 1.7 12.2 47.9

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

The 13.3 million people employed in agriculture across the 26 countries considered created EUR 163.3 billion of gross added value in 2003, with an average of EUR 12,200 per employed person (see table 1 above).

The differences between countries in terms of labour productivity in agriculture are far greater than the differences in terms of total national labour productivity - see table 2 below. The productivity of a person employed in agriculture differs, by comparison with the average for agriculture in the 26 countries (100%) between 11.8% in Latvia and 343.4% in the Netherlands (where horticulture is particularly important), while whole-economy productivity ranges from 11.3% in Romania to 178.7% in Norway (100% being the average for the 26 countries). The average level of national whole-economy productivity, calculated for the 26 countries, is 3.9 times the productivity in agriculture.

The greatest part of the difference between national average productivity and productivity in agriculture has structural causes. In general, however, the contribution of agriculture to gross added value is apparently smaller due to subsistence farming and the working and consumption patterns specific to various countries. A large number of household activities related to agriculture are omitted from national accounts or official statistics. Also, the pricing system for agricultural products influences, by various mechanisms, the competitiveness of the other economic sectors.

The contribution of agriculture to the creation of added value and GDP is a function of two major variables: the number of workers and labour productivity. As employment in agriculture declines, it increases 'upstream' and 'downstream' of the sector and also contributes to increasing the population’s wealth and economic welfare.

Table 2. Countries ranked by productivity of the national economy, productivity in agriculture and the ratio between them
Country Agriculture gross added value/employed in agriculture Country Gross domestic product/employed person Country Average national productivity/productivity in agriculture
Netherlands 343.4 Norway 178.7 Poland 7.91
Belgium 312.7 Ireland 161.8 Lithuania 7.19
Denmark 275.1 Denmark 145.1 Latvia 6.95
UK 258.5 Belgium 136.0 Finland 5.30
Norway 241.0 France 131.9 Slovenia 5.25
France 239.9 Germany 129.2 Slovakia 5.00
Spain 235.9 Finland 128.8 Austria 4.58
Italy 228.5 Austria 127.8 Sweden 4.17
Cyprus 203.3 Italy 124.9 Czech Republic 4.09
Ireland 187.8 Sweden 123.8 Total 26 countries 3.91
Germany 147.3 Netherlands 118.6 Germany 3.43
Malta 140.9 UK 113.4 Ireland 3.37
Sweden 116.2 Total 26 countries 100.0 Romania 3.37
Austria 109.0 Greece 79.3 Greece 3.02
Greece 102.8 Cyprus 73.1 Norway 2.90
Total 26 countries 100.0 Spain 62.6 Estonia 2.86
Finland 95.0 Slovenia 56.6 France 2.15
Hungary 75.6 Malta 56.3 Italy 2.14
Slovenia 42.1 Hungary 38.7 Denmark 2.06
Bulgaria 39.1 Czech Republic 34.9 Hungary 2.00
Estonia 38.6 Slovakia 28.4 UK 1.71
Czech Republic 33.4 Estonia 28.3 Belgium 1.70
Slovakia 22.2 Poland 28.0 Malta 1.56
Poland 13.8 Lithuania 22.9 Cyprus 1.41
Romania 13.1 Latvia 21.0 Netherlands 1.35
Lithuania 12.5 Bulgaria 12.8 Bulgaria 1.28
Latvia 11.8 Romania 11.3 Spain 1.04

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Level and structure of employment

As noted above, agriculture's share of total employment differs considerably between the countries examined. The structure of agricultural employment by gender also varies substantially - see table 3 below. Men make up the majority of agricultural employment in all countries, but the extent of their predominance differs, from 55% or less of the total in Austria, Slovenia and Romania, to 75% or more in Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, the UK, Hungary and Malta. On average, across the 23 EU Member States and two candidate countries considered, 62% of agricultural employment is made up by men, with the proportion standing at 69% in the old Member States, around 60% in the new Member States (just under 66% in all EU Member States considered), and only 53% in the two candidate countries.

Table 3. Employment in agriculture, total and by gender, 2003
. Total Men Women
Thousands Thousands % Thousands %
Austria 204 107 52.6 97 47.4
Belgium 70 51 73.6 18 26.4
Denmark 89 67 75.2 22 24.8
Finland 126 86 68.5 40 31.5
France 1,042 732 70.2 310 29.8
Germany 871 575 66.0 296 34.0
Greece 654 373 57.1 281 42.9
Ireland 113 100 88.3 13 11.7
Italy 1,040 730 70.2 310 29.8
Netherlands 218 152 70.0 65 30.0
Spain 934 680 72.8 254 27.2
Sweden 111 88 79.3 23 20.7
UK 356 281 79.0 75 21.0
Total 13 old EU MS 5,828 4,022 69.0 1,804 31.0
Cyprus 17 11 66.2 6 33.8
Czech Republic 212 146 68.9 66 31.1
Estonia 37 26 69.6 11 30.4
Hungary 211 163 77.3 48 22.7
Latvia 146 95 65.1 51 34.9
Lithuania 276 162 58.7 114 41.3
Malta 4 3 92.7 0 7.3
Poland 2,485 1,426 57.4 1,059 42.6
Slovakia 130 93 71.4 37 28.6
Slovenia 75 41 55.0 34 45.0
Total 10 NMS 3,593 2,166 60.3 1,426 39.7
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 9,421 6,188 65.7 3,230 34.3
Bulgaria 320 207 64.8 113 35.2
Romania 3,530 1,832 51.9 1,698 48.1
Total CCs 3,850 2,039 53.0 1,811 47.0
Total EU 23 CCs 13,271 8,227 62.0 5,041 38.0

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005).

Across all the countries examined, the age structure of agricultural employment indicates a high percentage of people aged 35-54 years (just under half of the total) and a relative balance between the number of those under 34 and those over 55 years - see table 4 below. The highest proportion of under-34s is found in the Netherlands (38%), Denmark (31%) and Romania (31%), and the lowest in Cyprus (12%), Greece (18%) and Austria (19%), while the proportion is slightly higher in the new Member States than in the old, and in the two candidate countries than in the other two groups. The highest proportion of over-55s is found in Cyprus (48%), Greece (41%) and Slovenia (41%), and the lowest in Slovakia (10%), Hungary (11%) and Malta (16%), while the proportion is higher in the old Member States than in the new, and in the two candidate countries than in the other two groups.

The share of part-time employment in agriculture in the countries covered by the study averages 19% - see table 4 below - compared with a whole-economy average for the EU 25 of 17% in 2003 (Eurostat figure). There are large differences between countries, with agricultural part-time employment rates ranging from 3% in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and 5% in Hungary to 39% in the Netherlands, 33% in Cyprus and 29% in Romania. Part-time employment is less common in the old Member States considered (13%) than in the new Member States (19%) and candidate countries (28%).

In 2003, of all people in (full-time) employment in the EU 25, some 15.5% were self-employed (according to Eurostat). This is an area where agriculture is distinctive, as in the EU Member States and candidate countries examined here some 72% of all those in employment in agriculture are self-employed and only 28% are employees. The highest percentage of employees in total agricultural employment is recorded in Slovakia (94%), the Czech Republic (82%), Estonia (71%), Hungary (68%), Germany (60%) and the Netherlands (50%). By contrast, in Greece, self-employed workers amount to 93% and employees only 7% and in Romania the percentages are 90% and 10% respectively. The rate of self-employment is lower in the old Member States considered (60%) than in the new Member States (74%) and candidate countries (88%).

Table 4. The structure of employment in agriculture by age, full-/part-time and employment status, % of total employment in agriculture, 2003
. Age brackets Full-/part-time Employment status
Under 34 years 35-54 years Over 55 years Full-time Part-time Employees Self-employed
Austria 19 58 23 84 16 25 75
Belgium 21 56 23 88 12 32 68
Denmark 31 47 22 86 14 49 51
Finland 20 56 24 84 16 29 71
France 23 58 19 88 12 31 69
Germany 23 57 20 83 17 60 40
Greece 18 41 41 92 8 7 93
Ireland 22 45 33 88 12 21 79
Italy 25 54 21 89 11 47 53
Netherlands 38 44 18 61 39 50 50
Spain 29 49 22 93 7 49 51
Sweden 22 40 38 75 25 35 65
UK 30 44 26 82 18 48 52
Total 13 old EU MS 24.6 51.6 23.8 87 13 40 60
Cyprus 12 40 48 67 33 29 71
Czech Republic 23 60 17 97 3 82 18
Estonia 29 51 20 93 7 71 29
Hungary 30 59 11 95 5 68 32
Latvia 28 52 20 78 22 57 43
Lithuania 28 51 21 83 17 28 72
Malta 24 60 16 93 7 48 52
Poland 28 53 19 77 23 12 88
Slovakia 25 65 10 97 3 94 6
Slovenia 20 39 41 80 20 27 73
Total 10 NMS 27.5 53.6 18.9 81 19 26 74
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 25.7 52.4 21.9 84 16 35 65
Bulgaria 23 45 32 89 11 38 62
Romania 31 34 35 71 29 10 90
Total CCs 30.3 34.9 34.8 72 28 12 88
Total EU 23 CCs 27.0 47.3 25.7 81 19 28 72

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005).


Unemployment in agriculture is rather difficult to assess, largely owing to the natural seasonal fragmentation of work periods in the arable, fruit and vegetable sectors. Although some figures are available on the number of unemployed farm workers and their unemployment rate, it appears that 'underemployment' is more widespread in the sector, though without necessarily generating access to any kind of benefit for those affected.

To give a few examples from countries with agricultural sectors of differing absolute and relative size, in 2003, unemployment in agriculture totalled: 173,000 people in Spain; 57,000 in Italy; 41,600 in France; 28,000 in Slovakia; 15,200 in Lithuania; 11,800 in the Czech Republic; 11,300 in Hungary (in 2005); and 1,000 in Sweden. The share of agricultural workers in total unemployment ranged from 2.8% in Austria and 3.5% in Germany to 10.3% in Lithuania and 10.9% in Slovakia. The unemployment rate in the agricultural regions of Bulgaria ranged from 6% to 46% (compared with a national average rate of 14%). In Finland, the unemployment rate in agriculture was 3.7% (compared with a national average of 9%); in Italy it was 5.8%; and in UK 3.2% - the lowest in the economy, with the exception of the public administration, education and healthcare sectors.

Specific legal framework

In some countries considered, a number of aspects of employment conditions, social protection and industrial relations in agriculture are governed by a specific, separate legal framework. Countries with specific laws defining and regulating farms and farming include Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. For example, in Austria the Farming Act (Landarbeitsrecht) lays down the basic legal framework for industrial relations and labour law applying to employees in the agricultural sector, with detailed regulations and execution to be provided by the federal states (Länder) - in practice, the basic standards regarding employment conditions and working hours do not significantly differ from those applying to other economic sectors, and the details are subject to collective bargaining. A minority of countries also have special regulatory instruments and provisions governing particular aspects of employment in agriculture. In addition to minimum pay regulation in a few countries (see table 6 below), examples include:

  • specific statutory regulations on seasonal, part-time and night work in Belgian horticulture;
  • Danish legislation regulating employment conditions, working time, holidays for agricultural employees not covered by collective agreements;
  • a 'casual workers' book' scheme in Hungary, which makes seasonal employment easier as it waives in the case of casual workers the normal requirements for an employment contract and the maintenance of employment, tax or social security records (the parties simply have to fill in personal data, sign the book and stick a stamp therein to prove the payment of various contributions);
  • a derogation from Irish working time legislation for farm workers 'whose place of employment is a private dwelling house or a farm in or on which he or she and the relative reside';
  • a decree in the Netherlands that allows, for certain categories of agricultural workers, deviations (by collective agreement) from the regular weekly breaks regime and an extension of the reference period over which the average maximum working week must be maintained in variable hours schemes; and
  • an exemption for Norwegian farms without any paid employees from the Act relating to Worker Protection and Working Environment (AML), though a limited number of health and safety regulations apply.

Specific social protection systems

In many countries examined, social protection systems and schemes applying to agriculture are no different from those applicable to the entire economy. However, some countries have separate provisions for the agricultural sector in areas such as pensions, health insurance and unemployment insurance, applying to self-employed farmers and/or agricultural employees - see table 5 below. Separate social protection systems for agriculture exist in Finland (for 'agricultural entrepreneurs') France, Greece (farmers), Poland and Spain, while there are specific schemes for the self-employed and/or employees in some particular areas of social protection in Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy. Sectoral collective agreements provide for special supplementary insurance schemes (eg occupational pensions) for agricultural workers in countries such as Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The general impression from national data on agriculture-specific schemes is of a tightening of budgets (public or those of special funds) as a result of the number of applicants/beneficiaries growing faster than the contributions.

Table 5. Specific social protection schemes for agriculture
Austria There is a specific pensions scheme for self-employed farmers, but the social protection scheme of employees in agriculture differs only marginally from that for other employees. Blue-collar workers pay slightly higher social insurance contributions but they do not have to pay a housing support contribution, and are granted a 'farm worker tax allowance' (Landarbeiterfreibetrag).
Belgium Non-seasonal and casual workers in agriculture (those covered by the relevant sectoral joint committee) qualify for a subsistence protection allowance (currently EUR 4.96 a day), the cost of which is borne by the employer, to cover incapacity for work in the event of sickness or accident. They are also entitled to an additional subsistence protection allowance (up to EUR 6.20 a day) in the event of temporary unemployment for economic reasons, force majeure and bad weather. The current collective agreement (valid until 1 January 2006) covering parks and gardens allows, in certain conditions, early retirement from 58.
Cyprus With the exception of employed earners, farmers and their family members belong to the broader group of self-employed workers for social insurance purposes. In the opinion of all the agricultural organisations, this results in two main problems: farmers make contributions to the Social Insurance Fund on the basis of implicit rather than actual incomes; and they particularly low old-age pensions.
Denmark The collective agreement covering workers in agriculture provides (like most other sectoral agreements) for a specific 'labour market' occupational pension scheme (with a contribution of 10.35% of the gross wage, two-thirds paid by employers and one-third by the employee). The agreement also contains provisions on sickness and injury insurance, additional maternity leave etc.
Finland 'Agricultural entrepreneurs' social protection schemes are largely distinct from those of others. Their entitlements are laid down in separate legislation on pensions, accident insurance and sickness insurance.
France Although they have their own social security fund - the Agricultural Mutual Society (Mutuelle sociale agricole, MSA), which had 710,000 contributors and 2 million pensioners in 2000 - agricultural workers are covered by the same rules as the general social security scheme.
Germany Self-employed farmers and supporting family members are required to make flat-rate contributions (with a difference between eastern and western Germany) to an industry-specific pension scheme (landwirtschaftliche Alterskasse). In order to receive benefits, the recipient must be 65 or above, must have contributed payments for at least 15 years and must have ceased farming. 312,600 farmers, spouses and family workers made payments to the pension scheme in 2004 (preliminary figures) - a decline of 4.6% from 2003. The number of beneficiaries amounted to 609,900 - an increase of 3.0% on 2003. 75% of the scheme's funds are paid by the federal government, which also finances an additional pension plan for employees in agriculture; this scheme is supplementary to the mandatory pensions system and covers those employees who are not eligible for collectively agreed allowances (which are funded by employers’ contributions alone). Health insurance is also mandatory, provided by agriculture-specific agencies (landwirtschaftliche Krankenkassen).
Greece The Agricultural Insurance Organisation (OGA) insures farmers (owners and operators of farms, farm workers, stock breeders, poultry farmers, beekeepers, etc), some fishers and certain other categories. The OGA covers pensions, healthcare, pharmaceutical care, allowances to large families and recreational programmes. Recently, OGA insurance has also been extended to seasonally employed farmers.
Hungary There are two social protection schemes specific to workers in agriculture, covering early retirement and aid for young farmers (the latter is not yet in effect). In addition, a special national aid is available to pay up to 20% of agricultural employers' social security contributions.
Italy The sector has specific 'social shock absorbers' to deal with structural difficulties. Agricultural unemployment benefit is paid during periods of non-work, and amounts to 30% of the wage for a period which may not exceed that of days worked (and in any case for no more than 180 days). A special wages guarantee fund for agricultural workers (Cassa Integrazione Straordinaria Operai Agricoli, CISOA) pays income support for a maximum of 90 days to dependent employees unable to work because of bad weather.
Netherlands A sectoral collective agreement provides for an additional unemployment insurance scheme in agriculture on top of the general system. The sector also has a mandatory occupational pension scheme, while a sectoral collective agreement regulates health insurance.
Poland The sector has its own social security system, managed by the Agricultural Social Insurance Fund (Kasa Rolniczego Ubezpieczenia Spoełcznego, KRUS). In 2003, 1.6 million workers in agriculture contributed to the fund and there were 1.8 million beneficiaries. The KRUS has a different system of calculating contributions than the general pensions scheme and the payments are lower. Since 2002, pensioners who hand over their farms to young people are granted pre-retirement pensions 50% higher than the usual pensions in agriculture. The agricultural social insurance system is largely subsidised by the state budget - in 2004 the state financed 94% of the KRUS's income.
Slovakia The social security of agricultural employees is standard and based upon the Labour Code. However, seasonal workers in agriculture are not covered - during the period when they are not employed, no contributions are made to insurance funds (pension, health, sickness insurance and unemployment insurance) on their behalf, they do not receive unemployment benefits and are not covered by any social security scheme.
Spain Farm workers are covered by a special agricultural social security system, which offers a lower level of protection than the general system. In 2003, there were 856,300 formerly self-employed pensioners in agriculture (with a monthly pension of EUR 366.4) and 669,700 former employee pensioners in agriculture (with an average pension of EUR 382.1). The beneficiaries of the pension scheme in agriculture represent 25% of the total number of pensioners in the country and receive around 14.4% of the total amount of pensions paid through the national social security system.

Source: EIRO.


Wage levels and wage setting are, of course, a key theme in industrial relations. The issue is perhaps less central in agriculture because of the very high proportion of self-employment - and in many cases farms with no employees - in the sector, especially in many new Member States and candidate countries. For individual farmers, the key issue is that of their farm's income (an issue examined briefly in the annex to this study), rather than rates of pay set by law, collective agreement or contract. However, as seen above, approaching one-third of those working in agriculture across the 26 countries examined are employees, and employees are in the majority in countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and the Netherlands. The evidence suggests that agricultural employees are generally low paid compared with those in other sectors.

While specific figures are not available for all countries, it is reported in virtually all cases that agriculture is a low-pay sector, where average wages are below the overall national average, and often considerably so. Although the exact measure varies from country to country, the following are some examples:

  • Finland - the average hourly earnings of manual workers in agriculture were 62.3% of those in industry for men and 74.7% for women in 2003;
  • Austria - the average monthly gross earnings of employees in agriculture, forestry and fishing were 65.3% of the national average in 2003 (67.2% for blue-collar workers and 90.1% for white-collar workers);
  • Estonia - the average wage in agriculture (and hunting) represented 65.9% of the national average in 2004 (57.5% in 2000);
  • the UK - average gross weekly earnings in the agriculture and fishing sector were 66.5% of the average for all full-time employees (62.3% for gross hourly earnings) in 2004;
  • Czech Republic - the average wage in agriculture was 71.7% of the national average in 2004;
  • Bulgaria - the average wage in agriculture represented about 73.8% of the national average in 2004 (down from 77.2% in 2001).
  • Lithuania - the average gross monthly wage in agriculture represented 74% of the national average in 2003;
  • Slovakia - the average wage in agriculture was 77.2 % of the national average in 2004 (107% in 1999)
  • Ireland - the average weekly earnings of permanent agricultural workers represented 77.2% (on farms with three to nine workers) or 82.1% (on farms with 10 or more workers) of average weekly earnings for industrial workers in 2001;
  • Romania - the average monthly pay of employees in agriculture was 78.3% of the national average in 2003;
  • Malta - the average gross annual salary of agriculture, hunting and forestry workers was 90.2% of the national average in March 2005; and
  • Poland - the average gross wage in agriculture represented 90.8% of the national average in 2003 (it was, however, 36% higher than the average wage in the entire private sector).

Within the generally low pay environment, there is some evidence from some countries that higher wages are paid on larger farms (as in Ireland), or in specific subsectors (eg nursery products in Belgium, or forestry in Sweden), or on publicly-owned farms (as in the Czech Republic).

Gender pay differentials in agriculture are documented from countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Latvia and the Netherlands, but insufficient data are generally available to assess whether or not the gap is wider or narrower in agriculture than the general gender differential that affects, to varying degrees, all the countries examined (TN0503103U).

Given the low-pay status of the sector, the regulation of minimum wages is likely to be of significance in agriculture - see table 6 below. Of the 26 countries covered by this study, 18 have some form of statutory national minimum wage (TN0507101S), which in all cases applies to agriculture in the same way as to other sectors. Ireland, Malta and the UK have, in addition to the national minimum wage, a specific statutory mechanism for setting minimum pay rates (and other employment conditions) in agriculture. In Ireland and the UK, these mechanisms predated the relatively recent introduction of a national minimum wage and, in the former case, the specific agricultural rate seems to have been outstripped by the national minimum rate. In many cases, on top of the statutory national minimum wage, sectoral or subsectoral collective agreements (see below under 'Collective bargaining') lay down (usually) higher minima - examples are Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Furthermore, in the eight countries without a national minimum wage - Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden - it is sectoral or subsectoral collective agreements (with varying degrees of coverage) that play the main role in regulating minimum pay. Where data are available, it generally appears that the minimum collectively agreed wages in agriculture are below the average set by agreements in other sectors - examples include Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden - though little difference is reported from Denmark. In some cases, such as Belgium, Norway and the UK, the minimum rates for seasonal workers are lower than for those employed on an open-ended basis.

Among countries with a national minimum wage, a relatively high proportion of agricultural workers are paid at this rate - thus underlining the sector's low-pay status - in countries such as France (32%) and Lithuania (29%) and the Netherlands (where agriculture is also one of the sectors where payment of wages below the legal minimum level is most common). The proportion of agricultural workers paid the minimum wage is lower in cases such as Slovenia (2.8%) and the UK (6%).

Table 6. Minimum wages in agriculture
Austria No national minimum wage. Minimum wages in agriculture stipulated in collective agreements - the sector is one of the few where the collectively agreed minimum rate is still lower than EUR 1,000 per month.
Belgium In addition to the national intersectoral minimum wage, sectoral/subsectoral collective agreements lay down minimum rates in the various agricultural activities. In 2005, the minimum hourly wage ranges across activities from EUR 7.51 in agriculture to EUR 9.34 in nursery products. The minimum hourly wage of seasonal workers is 5%-14% lower than that of permanently employed labourers. The minimum hourly rate may also vary according to the worker’s level of skill, as in the current agreement for agriculture.
Bulgaria National minimum wage applies.
Cyprus No national minimum wage. Minimum rate for employees (mainly foreign nationals) of small enterprises/employers in agriculture and animal husbandry not covered by any other agreement set by a specific industry-wide collective agreement - currently CYP 220 gross per month or CYP 195 net (the employer withholds CYP 25 per month for housing and maintenance costs etc).
Czech Republic National minimum wage applies.
Denmark No national minimum wage. Minimum rates in agriculture set by sectoral agreement - in the case of skilled and unskilled workers in the primary agricultural sector, the agreement between the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) and the Employers’ Association for Agriculture, Gardening and Forestry (GLS-A), which currently lays down an hourly minimum wage varies of between DKK 102.02 and DKK 107.08 (a similar level to that in other sectors).
Estonia National minimum wage applies.
Finland No national minimum wage. Minimum rates in agriculture set by collective agreements. For manual workers in agriculture, the level is currently EUR 6.64 to EUR 6.99 per hour depending on the agreement applicable (EUR 1,147 to EUR 1,202 per month, based on normal monthly working time of 172 hours). The minimum monthly pay for service sector employees in agriculture, laid down by the main agreement for the sector, is from EUR 1,335 to EUR 1,806, depending on the training and education required for the job.
France National minimum wage applies - though sectoral agreements also lay down minimum rates, 32% of jobs in agricultural production were paid, at best, at the national minimum wage level in 1999 (the latest year for which detailed data are available).
Germany No national minimum wage. Minimum rates in agriculture set by regional collective agreements. The standard agreed hourly minimum wages for farm workers currently range from EUR 4.44 to EUR 6.39 in eastern Germany and from EUR 4.68 to EUR 6.23 in western Germany. A recently announced extension of the Law on the Posting of Workers may impose a minimum wage in agriculture in the future.
Greece National minimum wage applies.
Hungary National minimum wage applies.
Ireland National minimum wage (currently EUR 7.65 per hour), applies, alongside the rulings of sector-specific Joint Labour Committees (JLCs). The agriculture JLC currently provides for a minimum of EUR 7.50 per hour for an experienced adult worker and a minimum weekly wage of EUR 292.50. The JLC also regulates the amounts may be deducted from pay if an agricultural worker receives board and lodging.
Italy No national minimum wage. Minimum rates in agriculture set by national collective agreements (which may be built on by province-level collective agreements) on the basis of the job classification. The current national monthly minimum rates are: common labourers - EUR 589.61 (equivalent to any hourly wage of EUR 3.48 and a daily wage of EUR 22.6); skilled workers - EUR 911.82 (EUR 5.39 per hour, EUR 35 per day); and specialised workers - EUR 990.87 (EUR 5.86 per hour, EUR 38.11 per day). Workers aged 15 and 16 receive 90% of the wage set by the collective agreement for each professional level. The minimum national pay levels in the agricultural sector are on average lower than those fixed by national agreements in other sectors.
Latvia National minimum wage applies.
Lithuania National minimum wage applies - in 2003, 29% of agricultural workers were paid at the minimum wage.
Malta National minimum wage applies, while the Agriculture and Allied Industries Wages Council Wage Regulation Order (1977), as amended, establishes the minimum working conditions (including wages) of those working in agriculture.
Netherlands National minimum wage applies, while (sub)sectoral agreements also lay down minimum rates. Agriculture is a sector (alongside catering, retail and repair) where employees are often paid less than the minimum wage. Recent Labour Inspectorate research found that about 68,000 employees receive less than the legal minimum wage, notably part-time women and young people in smaller companies in sectors including agriculture. Agriculture is also a sector where relatively large numbers of employees are paid at the legal minimum rate.
Norway No national minimum wage. Pay rates set by the collective agreement for the agricultural sector, including a minimum rate for seasonal work of NOK 84.50 per hour, which probably functions more or less as a minimum wage for the sector (albeit a low one in the Norwegian context), not least because this pay level or higher is mandatory in obtain to a work permit for seasonal employees from the new EU Member States or non-EU countries. If workers from the new Member States seek a permit for employment lasting over three months (periods over three months are not regarded as seasonal work) the collectively agreed minimum wage is NOK 102.15 per hour.
Poland National minimum wage applies.
Romania National minimum wage applies.
Slovakia National minimum wage applies (currently SKK 6,500 per month), while sectoral agreement for agriculture also lays down a minimum rate (currently SKK 6,680 per month).
Slovenia National minimum wage applies, while sectoral agreement for the agriculture and food industry also lays down basic rates. Some 2.8% of workers in agriculture were paid at the national minimum wage in 2004.
Spain National minimum wage applies, while sectoral/subsectoral agreements at various levels also lay down minimum rates. For casual and temporary agricultural workers whose services in the same company do not exceed 120 days, the statutory minimum wage cannot be less than EUR 24.29 per legal working day.
Sweden No national minimum wage. Minimum rates in agriculture set by sectoral collective agreements.
UK National minimum wage (currently GBP 4.85 per hour), applies, alongside minimum wage rates set by the sector-specific statutory Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) (made up of representatives of employers and workers, plus independent members) and enshrined in Agricultural Work Orders usually issued on an annual basis. In England and Wales, the minimum AWB rate in April 2005 for those not employed on a seasonal basis was GBP 5.40 per hour (the 'standard worker' rate) and the 'craft grade minimum' rate was GBP 6.75 per hour. The 'manual harvest worker' rate is GBP 4.85 (which matches the national minimum wage). Only 6% of agricultural workers earn at or below the national minimum wage.

Source. EIRO.

The agriculture social partners

In this section, we look at the social partner organisations in the agriculture sector - trade unions and employers' organisations. However, in many cases, there is no clear line of demarcation between trade unions and employers’ organisations in agriculture. Many farmers’ professional organisations promote interests that in other sectors are defended by trade unions. This reflects the prevalence of self-employment in the sector, with employees in the minority in most countries. In this section, therefore, while an attempt is made to distinguish between trade unions and employers' organisations, there is a degree of overlap with regard to some countries.

It should be mentioned that in some countries legislation regulates the establishment and operation of employers'/farmers'/owners’ and/or employees'/workers’ organisations in agriculture.

Trade unions

Table 7 below lists the main trade union organisations in the agriculture sector in the countries examined. There is a variety of patterns of union representation of agricultural workers, often reflecting broader national patterns, but with some sector-specific features. Thus:

  • in some countries there is thus essentially a single union representing agricultural workers, often affiliated to the main national confederation - examples include the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and the UK;
  • in a second group of countries, agricultural workers are represented by two or more unions, divided along occupational lines, notably for blue-collar and white-collar (and sometimes also professional) workers, in some cases (but not all) affiliated to different, essentially occupational confederations - examples include Austria, Denmark (where blue-collar workers are represented by a number of unions, depending on their job or subsector), Finland (where white-collar workers are represented by a number of unions, depending on their job), Norway and Sweden; and
  • in a third group, agricultural workers' representation is broadly divided among rival trade unions, often affiliated to separate union confederations (usually divided, at least originally, on various ideological lines) - examples include Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.
Table 7. Main trade unions in the agriculture sector
Austria Agriculture and Food-processing Union (Gewerkschaft Agrar-Nahrung-Genuß, ANG), affiliated to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) - blue-collar workers
Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA), affiliated to ÖGB - white-collar workers
Union of Public Employees (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst, GÖD), affiliated to ÖGB - public sector workers
Belgium Food and Services (Alimentation et Services/Voeding en Diensten) federation of the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV)
Food, Horeca and Services (Alimentation, Horeca, Services/Voeding, Horeca, Diensten) federation of the Belgian General Federation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV)
Federation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (Centrale Générale des Syndicaux Libéraux de Belgique/Algemene Centrale der Liberale Vakbonden van België, CGSLB/ACLVB)
Bulgaria Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Agriculture, affiliated to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB)
'Land' federation, affiliated to the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa)
Cyprus Sectoral affiliate of the Democratic Labour Federation of Cyprus (DEOK)
Sectoral affiliate of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO)
Sectoral affiliate of the Cyprus Workers' Confederation (SEK)
Czech Republic Association of Agriculture and Food Workers (Odborový svaz pracovníků zemědělství a výživy, OSPZV), affiliated to the Association of Independent Trade Unions (Asociace samostatných odborů ČR, ASO)
Denmark United Federation of Danish Workers (Fagligt Fælles Forbund, 3F), affiliated to the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) - includes animal-keepers, landscape gardeners, production gardeners, greenhouse gardeners, agriculture assistants, forest workers and dairy workers
Danish Food and Allied Workers Union (Nærings- og Nydelsesmiddelarbejder Forbundet, NNF), affiliated to LO - skilled and unskilled workers in slaughtering and meat processing and other food industries
Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK), affiliated to LO
Union of Danish Metalworkers (Dansk Metal), affiliated to LO
Danish Union of Clerical Workers (Dansk Funtionærforbund, DFF), affiliated to LO
Association of Danish Inseminators (Foreingen af danske inseminører), affiliated to the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants (Funktionærernes og Tjenestemændenes Fællesforbund, FTF)
Estonia Confederation of Estonian Food and Landworkers' Unions (Eesti Toiduainete- ja Maatöötajate Keskliit, ETMK)
Estonian Rural Agricultural Labour Union (Eesti Maateenistujate Ametiliit, EMTA), affiliated to the Estonian Employees’ Unions’ Confederation (Teenistujate Ametiliitude Keskorganisatsioon, TALO)
Finland Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Puu- ja erityisalojen liitto), affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) - manual agricultural workers
Federation of Salaried Employees Pardia (Palkansaajajärjestö Pardia), affiliated to the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (Toimihenkilökeskusjärjestö, STTK) - white-collar workers
Finnish National Union of State Employees and Special Services (Valtion ja erityispalvelujen ammattiliitto, VAL), affiliated to SAK - white-collar workers
Federation of Public and Private Sector Employees (Julkis- ja yksityisalojen toimihenkilöliitto, Jyty), affiliated to STTK - white-collar workers
Finnish Association of Academic Agronomists (Agronomiliitto), affiliated to the Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals (AKAVA)
France Sectoral affiliate of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT)
Sectoral affiliate of the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff - General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC)
Sectoral affiliate of the General Confederation of Labour - Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail - Force ouvrière, CGT-FO)
Sectoral affiliate of the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT)
Sectoral affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA)
Sectoral affiliate of the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC)
Germany Trade Union for Building, Forestry, Agriculture and the Environment (Industriegewerkschaft Bauen-Agar-Umwelt, IG BAU), affiliated to the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB)
Greece Various affiliates of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), including the Federation of Unions of Workers in Greek Agriculture Organisations (OSEGO) - representing mainly employees of agricultural organisations/cooperatives - and the Union of Workers in the Horticulture Sector.
Hungary Agricultural, Forestry and Water Management Workers’ Trade Union (Mezőgazdasági Erdészeti és Vízgazdálkodási Dolgozók Szakszervezete, MEDOSZ), affiliated to the National Association of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSZOSZ)
Ireland Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)
Italy Federation of Agro-Industry Workers (Federazione Lavoratori dell’Agroindustria, Flai), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil)
Agricultural-Environmental Food Industry Federation (Federazione Agricola Alimentare Ambientale Industriale, Fai), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl)
General Farmers Union (Unione Generale Coltivatori, UGC), affiliated to Cisl.
Italian Agro-Food Workers Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Agroalimentare, Uila), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil)
Italian Union of Sharecroppers and Direct Farmers (Unione Italiana Mezzadri e Coltivatori Diretti, UIMEC), affiliated to Uil.
Latvia Trade Union of Agriculture and Food Industry Workers (Latvijas Lauksaimniecības un pārtikas nozaru arodu biedrība), affiliated to the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (Latvijas Brīvo Arodbiedrību savienība, LBAS)
Lithuania Trade Union Federation of Lithuanian Agricultural Workers (Lietuvos žemės ūkio darbuotojų profesinių sąjungų federacija, LŽŪDPSF), affiliated to the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (Lietuvos profesinių sąjungų konfederacija, LPSK)
Agricultural federation of the Lithuanian Labour Federation (Lietuvos darbo federacija, LDF) (very few members)
Malta Hospitality and Foods section of the General Workers Union (GWU) - workers in agricultural cooperatives and food processing companies
Netherlands Allied Unions (Bondgenoten), affiliated to the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV)
Bedrijvenbond, affiliated to the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV)
Norway Norwegian United Federation of Trade Unions (Fellesforbundet), affiliated to the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) - blue-collar workers (white-collar workers in sector-related services organised in other unions)
Poland Independent and Self Governing Trade Union 'Solidarity' of Individual Farmers (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Rolników Indywidualnych Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność RI)
Self Defence Union of Farmers (Związkek Zawodowy Rolników Samoobrona, ZZR Samoobrona)
Agricultural and Allied Workers' Section of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy 'Solidarność', NSZZ Solidarność)
Sectoral affiliates of the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ)
Trade Union of Employees in Agriculture (Związek Zawodowy Pracowników Rolnictwa w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, ZZPR)
Romania Eight agriculture federations affiliated to the Cartel Alfa Confederation (Confederatia Cartel Alfa, Cartel Alfa), notably the Ceres Trade Union Centre (Centrala Sindicala Ceres, Ceres)
The National Federation of Trade Unions in Agriculture, Tobacco, Related Areas and Services (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor din Agricultură, Tutun, Domenii şi Servicii Conexe, AGROSTAR), affiliated to the National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS)
The Trade Union Federation for Land Development (Federaţia Sindicală din Imbunătăţiri Funciare, FSIF), affiliated to the Confederation of Democratic Trade Unions in Romania (Confederaţia Sindicatelor Democratice din România, CSDR)
Free Trade Unions Agro-Fratia (Sindicatele Libere Agro-Frăţia, Agro-Frăţia), affiliated to CNSLR Frăţia
Slovakia Trade Unions of Employees in Agriculture (Odborový zväz zamestnancov v poľnohospodárstve, OZZP), affiliated to the Confederation of Trade Unions (Konfederácia odborových zväzov Slovenskej republiky, KOZ SR) - employees in agriculture with the exception of those working in cooperative farms
Slovenia Trade Union of Agriculture and Food Industry of Slovenia (Sindikat Kmetijstva in živilske industrije Slovenije, KŽI), affiliated to the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS)
Trade Union of Agriculture and Food Industry (Sindikat agroživilstva), affiliated to Confederation 90 (Konfederacija sindikatov 90’)
Farmers Trade Union of Slovenia (Sindikat kmetov Slovenije)
Spain Agri-food federation (Federación Agroalimentaria) affiliated to the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO)
Agri-food federation (Federación Agroalimentaria) affiliated to the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT)
Union of Small Farmers (Unión de Pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos, UPA), affiliated to UGT - self-employed agricultural workers
Trade Unions of Workers of the Country and Rural Environment of Andalucia (Sindicatos de Obreros del Campo y del Medio Rural de Andalucía, SOC Y MR) - mainly casual workers (Andalucia region)
Sweden Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunalarbetareförbundet), affiliated to the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions Landsorganisationen, LO) - blue-collar workers in agriculture and horticulture
Forest and Wood Workers' Union (Skogs- och Träfacket), affiliated to LO - blue-collar workers in wood processing and forestry
Union of Forestry and Agricultural Professional Employees (Skogs- och Lantbrukstjänstemannaförbundet, SLF), affiliated to the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) - white-collar workers in forestry and agriculture
Agrifack (Agrifack), affiliated to the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Sveriges Akademikers Centralorganisation, SACO) - professionals in agriculture, forestry, gardening and the environment
Swedish Union of Clerical and Technical Employees in Industry (Svenska Industritjänstemannaförbundet, SIF), affiliated to TCO
Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Civilingenjörsförbundet, CF), affiliated to SACO
Swedish Veterinary Association (Sveriges Veterinärsförbund, SVF), affiliated to SACO
Salaried Employees’ Union (Tjänstemannaförbundet HTF), affiliated to TCO
UK Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Group of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU)

Source. EIRO.

Whatever the overall pattern of representation and affiliation, agricultural workers are rarely represented by a sector-specific, free-standing trade union. Instead they are usually organised in wider unions or federations also representing workers in, for example, the food industry (as with some or all relevant unions in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, Latvia, Slovenia and Spain), forestry, wood etc (as in Finland and Hungary), construction (Germany) or municipalities (Sweden). They may also be included (sometimes as a specific section) in broad general or industrial workers' unions, as in Denmark, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. There are, however, exceptions, mainly in new Member States where agriculture has a more substantial share of the economy and employment - thus specific agricultural workers' unions exist in countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, as well as Greece. Another type of free-standing exception is the organisations representing small farmers that in some countries can essentially be seen as trade unions, as in Poland for example, and indeed in several cases in Italy and Spain such organisations are affiliated to main trade union confederations.

The absence of specific agricultural workers' trade unions in most countries reflects the downward trend of employment in the sector. In some cases, former stand-alone agricultural unions have been merged into larger unions - a recent example was in 2001 when the 12,000-strong Swedish Agricultural Workers’ Union (Lantarbetareförbundet) was absorbed into the Municipal Worker’s Union (Kommunalarbetareförbundet), becoming a very small group within the latter, which is the country's largest blue-collar trade union, with 600,000 members.

Agriculture is a sector where small enterprises and self-employment are prevalent, with a relatively small number of employees in most cases. Furthermore, much work is temporary or seasonal, and farms are spread over wide geographical areas. These factors are not generally favourable to trade union organisation, and this is reflected that the number of agricultural trade union members is usually relatively small and the density/coverage rate below the national average or that of other sectors. For example (national union density rates are taken from an earlier EIRO study - TN0401101F):

  • the number of members of Germany's IG BAU union who work in agriculture, forestry, gardening and landscape architecture gradually decreased from a high of 120,190 in 1992 to 39,776 in 2004 - just under 10% of IG BAU’s total membership. Union density stands at just 3.3% of the total agricultural workforce, compared with a national average of 30%, though the figure would be lower for agricultural employees alone;
  • in Hungary, MEDOSZ, the only sectoral union, has 15,000 members, representing 13% of the workforce in agriculture (national average union density is around 20%);
  • in terms of the total number of hired workers in agriculture, trade union density stands at 9.4% in Lithuania (national average union density is around 15%);
  • union density in the Dutch agriculture and fishery sector was 19% in 1999 (national average union density was around 27%);
  • in Slovakia, union density in agriculture is 9% (national average union density is around 35%); and
  • union density is exceptionally low in the UK agriculture sector, at only 8.3% in autumn 2003 (national average union density is around 29%).

There are some exceptions. For instance, in Austria, the agriculture sector's unionisation rate was around 50% in 2001 (a figure that has been relatively stable in recent years), compared with a national average of around 40%. Blue-collar agricultural workers were more unionised (54%) than white-collar workers (28%), while forestry workers have the highest union density.

Many trade unions representing agricultural workers in the countries considered are members of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) and, at world level, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).

Employers’ organisations

Table 8 below lists the main employers' organisations in the agriculture sector in the countries covered by this study. Identifying employers' organisations in the sense that they exist in most other sectors is not always simple in agriculture. As noted above, the majority of owners/farmers do not employ paid workers, and farmers and their families are often both workers in and organisers/managers/supervisors of, the family business. The result is that many farmers and farm-owners do not have employers' interests, as such, to promote and defend.

The organisations listed in table 8 are those known to conduct collective bargaining or represent agriculture employers' interests in bipartite/tripartite bodies. Most countries also have a number of other agricultural interest-representation organisations or structures. These include bodies that represent general farmers' and agricultural interests outside their role as employers - examples include the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (Maa- ja metsätaloustuottajain Keskusliitto, MTK) (and its Swedish-speaking counterpart) in Finland, the Association of German Farmers (Deutscher Bauernverband, DBV) or the Norwegian Farmers' Union (Norges Bondelag, NB). A number of countries also have specific organisations representing small farmers' interests (which by nature are usually unlikely to include employer interests), such as France's Small Farmers’ Alliance (Confédération paysanne). Some countries also have agricultural 'chambers', providing services such as professional consultancy, often via regional/local bodies - examples include the Bulgarian Agricultural Chamber, the Lithuanian Chamber of Agriculture (Lietuvos Respublikos Žemės ūkio rūmai, ŽŪR) or the National Board of Agricultural Chambers (Krajowa Rada Izb Rolniczych, KRIR) in Poland. Chambers of commerce may also play a role (generally promoting a country’s national products abroad), while there are often various trade associations grouping producers by categories of products. The wide spectrum of organisations and associations in agriculture promotes interests and goals related to a wide range of issues.

Focusing purely on employers' organisations, a feature in many countries is that the agricultural employers' interests are represented by separate structures, outside the 'mainstream' of employers' representation in most of the economy. Agricultural employers' organisations are not affiliated to the main national 'peak' employers' confederation(s) (TN0311101S) in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland. Romania, Spain and the UK. This is also the case in Denmark, with the exception of one specific organisation for the slaughterhouse sector, which is affiliated to the main general confederation, and in Finland, except for the employers' organisation for agricultural services. In the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia, some agricultural employers' organisations are affiliated to the mainstream employers' confederation, but some are separate. Only in Latvia and Sweden are the main agricultural employers' organisations affiliated to the main general confederation. Employers' organisations in agriculture thus have a higher degree of 'self-containment' than trade unions in the sector.

Although figures are not available in many cases, agricultural employers’ organisations often represent a high proportion of employers, and in many countries organise a greater proportion of their potential constituency than trade unions. It is frequently the case that employers must join such organisations to have access to services or facilities. Some examples of membership levels are as follows:

  • in Austria, the Chambers of Agriculture represent 100% of agricultural employers, as a result of obligatory membership, while OALF's density is around 95%, in terms of the proportion of the sector's employees employed by its members;
  • in Belgium, FWH claims to represent 60% of professional agricultural undertakings in the Walloon region, while the National Agro-service Centre represents about 60% of relevant enterprises and self-employed workers. FWA represents over 90% of fruit-tree farmers, over 90% of strawberry-growers, about 65%-70% of market gardeners, and about 50%-60% of producers in the ornamental sector in the Walloon region;
  • GLFA's affiliates represent 80% to 90% of farms with employees who are liable to social security contributions in western Germany (the density is much lower in eastern Germany);
  • in Hungary, the membership of MOSZ covers 50% of production and 50% of employees in the sector;
  • in Italy, Confagricoltura represents medium-to-large businesses that account for around 70% of the annual volume of work days in agriculture, while Coldiretti represents 52% of the (small-sized) farm businesses registered with the Chambers of Commerce;
  • in the Netherlands, the combined membership of LTO and ZLTO (50,000 businesses) equals a 'density' of 56%; and
  • in the UK, NFU represents three-quarter of all farmers in England and Wales.

Many agricultural employers' organisations in the countries considered are members of the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations in the European Union (COPA) or General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the European Union (COGECA).

Table 8. Main employers’ organisations in the agriculture sector
Austria Standing Committee of the Presidents of the Employers' Associations of Agriculture (Obmännerkonferenz der Arbeitgeberverbände der Land- und Forstwirtschaft in Österreich, OALF) - voluntary membership
Standing Committee of the Presidents of the Austrian Chambers of Agriculture (Präsidentenkonferenz der Landwirtschaftskammern, PKLWK) - compulsory membership
Belgium Federation of Belgian Farmers (Belgische Boerenbond, BB)
Walloon Agricultural Federation (Fédération wallonne de l'agriculture, FWA)
Walloon Horticultural Federation (Fédération wallonne de l’horticulture, FWH) - associated with FWA
Belgian Association of Garden Entrepreneurs (Association des entrepreneurs de jardins de Belgique/Confederatie Belgische Tuinaannemers, CBCEJB)
Belgian Horticultural and Nursery Products Federation (Fédération des horticulteurs et pépiniéristes belges/Algemeen Verbond van de Belgische Siertelers en Groenvoorzieners, FHPB/AVBS)
Flemish Horticultural Union (Vlaamse Tuinbouw Unie, VTU)
National Agro-Service Centre (Centrale nationale agro-service), affiliated to the Union of Independent Entrepreneurs (Unie van Zelfstandige Ondernemers, UNIZO)
Bulgaria Council of Bulgarian Agrarian Organisations (including Bulgarian Employers in Agriculture and the Association of Agriculture Producers in Bulgaria)
Cyprus Union of Cypriot Farmers (EKA)
Pancyprian Farmers’ Organisation (Agrotiki)
Panagrarian Association
Panagrarian Union of Cyprus (PEK)
Czech Republic ZS CR, affiliated to the Confederation of Employers´ and Enterpreneurs´ Associations of the CR, (Konfederace zaměstnavatelských a podnikatelských svazů ČR, KZPS ČR)
Czech-Moravian Association of Agricultural Entrepreneurs (Českomoravský svaz zemědělských podnikatelů, ČSZP)
Association of Construction Entrepreneurs of the CR (Svaz podnikatelů ve stavebnictví, SPS), affiliated to KZPS ČR
Association of Education Facilities for the Development of the Countryside (Asociace vzdělávacích zařízení pro rozvoj venkovského prostoru)
Denmark Danish Confederation of Employers' Associations in Agriculture (Sammenslutningen af Landbrugets Arbejdsgiverforeninger, SALA). Includes: Employers’ Association of Dairies and Ice Cream Industry (Mejeribrugets Arbejdsgiverforening, MA), Employers’ Association for Agriculture, Gardening and Forestry (Gartneri-, Land- og Skovbrugets Arbejdsgivere, GLS-A), Association of Landscape Gardeners (Danske Anlægsgartnere, LDA), Danish Cattle Breeding and AI Societies (Kvægavlsforeningen Dansire, KD) and Danish Cooperative Farm Supply (Dansk Landbrugs Grovvareselskab, DLG)
Association of Employers in the Slaughterhouse Sector (Slagteriernes Arbejdsgiverforening, SA), a member of Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI), affiliated to Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA)
Estonia Estonian Farmers’ Federation (Eestimaa Talupidajate Keskliit, ETKL)
Finland Federation of Agricultural Employers (Maaseudun Työnantajaliiitto)
Employers’ Association of Special Branches (Erityispalvelujen Työnantajaliitto), affiliated to Confederation of Finnish Industries (Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto, EK) - agricultural services
France National Federation of Farm Operators’ Unions (Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles, FNSEA), includes National Young Farmers’ Congress (Confédération nationale des jeunes agriculteurs, CNJA)
Germany Federation of German Agricultural and Forestry Employers' Associations (Gesamtverband der Deutschen Land- und Forstwirtschaftlichen Arbeitgeberverbände, GLFA)
Greece Pan Hellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives (PASEGES)
General Confederation of Greek Agrarian Associations (GESASE)
Hungary National Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives and Producers (Mezőgazdasági Szövetkezők és Termelők Országos Szövetsége, MOSZ)
Association of Agricultural Employers (Agrár Munkaadói Szövetség, AMSZ)
Ireland Irish Farmers' Association (IFA)
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA)
Irish Cooperative Organisation Society Ltd
Italy General Confederation of Italian Agriculture (Confederazione Generale dell’Agricoltura Italiana, Confagricoltura)
National Confederation of Direct Farmers (Confederazione Nazionale Coltivatori Diretti, Coldiretti)
Italian Agricultural Confederation (Confederazione Italiana Agricoltori, Cia)
Latvia Latvian Farmers' Federation (Latvijas Zemnieku federācija, LZF), affiliated to Latvian Employers’ Confederation (Latvijas Darba Devēju konfederācija, LDDK)
Lithuania Lithuanian Association of Agricultural Companies (Lietuvos žemės ūkio bendrovių asociacija, LŽŪBA)
Sectoral affiliates of Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists (Lietuvos pramoninkų konfederacijos, LPK)
Malta Malta Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (GRTU) - intermediaries in agricultural products, animal breeders and farm owners
Netherlands Netherlands Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation (Land-en Tuinbouw Organisatie Nederland, LTO)
Southern Netherlands Agriculture and Horticulture Organisation (Zuidelijke Land- en Tuinbouworganisatie Nederland, ZLTO)
CUMULA Nederland- contracting companies
Association of Landscaping Companies (Vereniging van Hoveniers en Groenvoorzieners, VHG)
Norway Employers' Organisation for the Agricultural Sector Landbrukets Arbeidsgiverforening (LA)
Poland National Farmers' Union, Farmers' Circles and Organisations (Krajowy Związek Rolników, Kółek i Organizacji Rolniczych, KZRKiOR)
Romania National Confederation of Employers in Agriculture and the Food Industry (Confederaţia Naţională Patronală din Agricultură şi Industria Alimentară, ROMAGRIA)
Employers’ Association of Major Agricultural Producers in Romania (Patronatul Marilor Producători Agricoli din România, PMPA)
Slovakia Slovak Agricultural and Food Chamber (Slovenská poľnohospodárska a potravinárska komora, SPPK)
Union of Agricultural Cooperatives and Business Organisations (Zväz poľnohospodárskych družstiev a obchodných spoločností), affiliated to the Federation of Employers´ Associations (Asociácia zamestnávateľských zväzov a združení Slovenskej republiky, AZZZ SR)
Agricultural Employers' Union (Poľnohospodársky zamestnávateľský zväz Slovenskej republiky), affiliated to AZZZ SR
Slovenia Food Industries Association (Združenje agroživilstva), affiliated to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (Gospodarska zbornica Slovenije, GZS)
Agriculture and food industry section of the Employers' Association of Slovenia (Združenje delodajalcev Slovenije, ZDS)
Cooperative Union of Slovenia (Zadružna zveza Slovenije)
Spain Agrarian Association of Young Farmers (Asociación Agraria de Jóvenes Agricultores, ASAJA)
Coordinating Organisation of Farmers (Coordinadora de Agricultores y Ganaderos, COAG)
Confederation of Spanish Agricultural Cooperatives (Confederación de Cooperativas Agrarias de España, CCAE)
Sweden Federation of Swedish Forest and Agricultural Employers (Skogs- och Lantarbetsarbetsgivareförbundet, SLA), affiliated to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv)
UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU)

Source. EIRO.

Social partner viewpoints

Of the 26 countries covered by this study, 23 are EU Member States and two are candidate countries. It is thus unsurprising that a central concern of government, employers and trade unions’ concerns, and a key issue in dialogue among them, is the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and in particular its most recent reform for the 2007-13 period. In 2003, EU farm ministers adopted a fundamental reform of the CAP, which will completely change the way the EU supports its farm sector. The new CAP will be geared towards consumers and taxpayers, while seeking to give EU farmers the freedom to produce what the market wants. In future, the vast majority of subsidies will be paid independently from the volume of production. To avoid abandonment of production, Member States may choose to maintain a limited link between subsidy and production under defined conditions and within clear limits. The new 'single farm payments' will be linked to the respect of environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Severing the link between subsidies and production will, it is hoped, make EU farmers more competitive and market-oriented, while providing the necessary income stability. More money will be available to farmers for environmental, quality or animal welfare programmes by reducing direct payments for bigger farms.

Governments support the majority of the new CAP orientations and many countries have already developed agricultural and rural development strategies for the future. Among other goals, the strategies focus on a radical adjustment of agricultural enterprises, an orientation toward a 'multifunctional' agriculture, increasing farm competitiveness, market deregulation and sustainable development.

Employers are in favour of improving competitiveness but some - as in Denmark and the Netherlands - state that a 'multifunctional' agriculture involves costs (relating, for example, to environmental measures and animal welfare) that market mechanisms and the CAP's planned subsidies do not provide enough support for. Employers' opinions on the CAP reform differ slightly across the groups of countries. Many employers' bodies in old Member States point to the potential losses involved (as in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain). Some employers request that individual countries should determine which areas require subsidies and should be allowed to set the subsidies quota. In the new Member States, some employers voice fears about the reform and claim equal treatment with the EU 15 in the distribution of sums from the CAP budget, stating that in general the CAP is inadequate for small farms and self-employed farmers. Employers in individual countries have their own specific concerns. For example, Finland's MTK sees the CAP as favouring large farms in the temperate climate zone and not the relatively small Finnish farms, with their short growing season. Employers may be critical about the effects on particular crops (eg sugar beet in the Netherlands and Finland) and the protection of certain products of national origin (eg in Italy, Hungary and Romania).

Employers are generally in favour of the CAP supporting the stability of incomes, a view shared by trade unions. While there is support for aspects of the CAP reform from unions in certain countries, such as France and Germany, some have particular concerns. For example, Austrian trade unions want agricultural subsidies to be linked to the number of employees instead of farm size, arguing that this would introduce an active employment policy for agriculture. Czech unions believe that the costs of reform are being borne largely by employees. In Germany, the IG BAU union believes that national implementation neglects health and safety standards and calls for resources generated by changes to the direct payments system to be used to improve working conditions and employment perspectives in agriculture. According to CC.OO in Spain, the CAP has produced good results, but at the expense of the development of social policies and employment. Rather than the simple maintenance of prices, it would like to see greater control in the quality of production, protection of biodiversity, and measures to avoid depopulation and preserve regional balance. Beyond strictly CAP-related issues, low pay is major concern and focus for action of trade unions in countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia. Spanish and Slovakian unions want improved social security for casual/seasonal workers, while in Ireland there is union concern about alleged exploitation of some agricultural workers, especially immigrant workers, who are less likely to have knowledge of their employment rights or be able to enforce them.

Overall, the CAP clearly seems important for the social partners in all the countries examined, and there is a widespread view that a shift in policy development from national to EU level may result in some local, regional and national issues being overlooked. National ministries arguably become mainly monitoring institutions, so new forms of consulting the social partners over important issues must be devised.

Collective bargaining

The structure of collective bargaining in agriculture varies considerably between the countries examined, often following differences in overall national bargaining systems - see table 9 below. However, there are several features that seem to be distinctive to agriculture across at least some countries. These seem largely to reflect the fact that, as noted above, self-employment is the rule in many countries and employees (whose pay and conditions are the core issue in collective bargaining) are in a minority, and generally employed at farms or other workplaces with very small workforces. These factors appear to explain the reported absence of collective bargaining (as the term is commonly understood) in agriculture in Greece and Poland, while Estonia's lack of collective bargaining appears largely due to organisational weaknesses on both sides. Among the other 23 countries, sectoral bargaining of some kind is reported in all cases but Malta, and company bargaining is reported in 14 cases. Overall, it seems that the prevalence of sectoral bargaining (sometimes even in countries where this is not the norm - see below) can, at least in part, explained by the considerable difficulties encountered in organising lower-level bargaining in the sector, especially in the case of new Member States, as a consequence of factors such as small employment units, geographical dispersion or low union density. Under such conditions, sector-level bargaining seems to be the easiest way to conclude collective agreements in agriculture.

In Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, there is a single national sectoral collective agreement for agriculture, while there are different national agreements in Norway and Sweden for white- and blue-collar workers. There are several national agreements covering different subsectors in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark (plus some separate bargaining for blue- and white-collar staff), Finland (separate bargaining for blue- and white-collar staff) and France. In the Netherlands, bargaining occurs at both whole-sector and subsector levels. National sectoral agreements in France and Italy are built on by sectoral agreements at a lower geographical level (départements and provinces respectively), while the situation in Germany and Spain is somewhat similar. In Austria, bargaining takes place at regional (but not national) sectoral level, and is further subdivided into agreements for different types of farms and for blue- and white-collar workers. Sectoral agreements exist, but cover only parts of agriculture in Bulgaria (where a lack of employer-side bargaining parties is an obstacle to wider sectoral agreements), Cyprus and Hungary. While Ireland and the UK do not have sectoral collective bargaining, as such, in agriculture (or indeed in almost any other sectors) they both have statutory bodies with joint social partner representation that agree minimum pay and conditions in the sector (indeed, in the UK, agriculture is the only industry that still has such a mechanism).

Company bargaining exists, as noted above, in 16 of the countries, and it occurs alongside sectoral bargaining of some sort (with a varying relationship between the two levels) in all these cases but Malta, where it is the sole bargaining level. However, company bargaining rarely seems very widespread (possible exceptions are Denmark and Sweden) or a key negotiating level. Company-level bargaining seems notably less common in agriculture than in many other sectors in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Malta, Spain and the UK, and company bargaining of any kind seems virtually absent in agriculture in Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands - although this is not the case in most other sectors in these countries. It might be argued that in cases such as Italy and the Netherlands, regional/local or subsectoral bargaining fill the role played by company bargaining in other sectors.

Figures are not generally available on the proportion of employees in agriculture covered by collective bargaining. Where statistics can be found, with the exception of virtual 100% coverage rates in Austria and Romania, they indicate a lower than average rate of bargaining coverage in countries such as Germany (especially in the east), Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the UK. Furthermore, although precise figures are not available, agriculture bargaining coverage seems relatively low in countries such as Bulgaria and Malta. In addition, as noted above, bargaining seems entirely absent from agriculture in Estonia, Greece and Poland.

In general, collective agreements in agriculture deal with the main themes of bargaining in the country concerned. Pay and working time are the core issues and other relatively common issues for bargaining in agriculture include: training/apprenticeship (as in cases such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Slovakia); pensions and (early) retirement (as in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia); sector-specific social benefits and insurance (as in Belgium); and childcare/parental arrangements (as in Austria and Denmark). There are some cases where the contents of agriculture agreements in 'mainstream' areas are distinctive - eg there may be specifically adapted provisions on working time, as in Slovenia, for instance. There are also distinctive agreements or provisions on matters of particular importance to agriculture, principally aspects of seasonal/casual employment - as in France, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands (where subsectoral agreements also deal with fighting illegal labour).

In several central and eastern European countries, such as Lithuania, it is reported that the sectoral agreements for agriculture do little more than repeat the relevant provisions of labour legislation. However, in cases such as Bulgaria and Slovakia, some relevant agreements improve on the law in areas such as working time, paid annual leave, retirement benefits and redundancy compensation.

Table 9. Collective bargaining in agriculture
Country Levels General duration Summary
National sectoral Regional (or provincial etc) sectoral Company (including groups)
Austria . X X 1 year No national agreement but more than 40 multi-employer agreements, divided by company type/activity, region (most agreements cover only one of the nine Länder, though a few cover up to seven) and blue-collar/white-collar workers. Only two single-employer settlements - for City of Vienna agricultural undertakings and federal forestry company (Österreichische Bundesforste, AG). Bargaining coverage is almost 100%
Belgium X . X 2 years Sectoral bargaining conducted in joint committees for agriculture, enterprises involved in agricultural and horticultural activities, and horticultural enterprises (with separate provisions for some sectors). Very little company bargaining, and only in the few enterprises where at least 50 workers are employed.
Bulgaria X . X 2 years (occasionally 18 months) Due to lack of employer-side bargaining parties, agreements in the sector are mainly restricted to administrative agencies and structures, such as national service offices and centres. These structures concentrate the major portion of the sector's trade union members. In 2004, five branch collective agreements and 25 company agreements were signed in agriculture.
Cyprus X . X 2-3 years (company agreements), 4 years (sectoral) Company agreements set pay and conditions for the minority of Cypriot nationals working in the sector (in citrus and potato packing plants). Since 2004 a single sectoral agreement governs basic pay and conditions for the (almost all foreign) workers employed by small employers in agriculture and animal husbandry not covered by other enterprise or industry-wide agreements.
Czech Republic X . X 1-3 years Usually two to four collective agreements concluded by main sectoral union and employers’ organisations for agriculture and related activities. Company agreements exist, but number/coverage unknown.
Denmark X . X 3 years Main sectoral agreements concluded by member organisations of SALA and LO (which have a cooperation agreement - DK0109133N). The pace-setting agreement is in agriculture, horticulture and forestry (DK0504101N), with other accords covering dairy and slaughterhouse workers. Also some separate bargaining for white-collar workers. Company bargaining builds on sectoral minima.
Estonia . . . . No collective bargaining reportedly occurs in agriculture.
Finland X . . 2-2.5 years Three sectoral agreements negotiated for blue-collar workers in agriculture and one sectoral agreement for white-collar workers in agricultural services.
France X X X Varies National sectoral collective agreements (for agriculture, forestry, agricultural cooperatives etc) set out rules that can later be amended by département-level agreements on all subjects within their field of responsibility, such as pay. Some company bargaining.
Germany X X . 2 years National sectoral agreement on pay increases that requires approval by regional employers’ associations - regional deviations are thus possible. Standard hourly minimum wages agreed at regional level. National agreement on pensions. Collective agreements cover 46% of establishments and 60% of employees in primary sector in western Germany - in eastern Germany, coverage is 9% of establishments and 19% of employees.
Greece . . . . No collective bargaining occurs in agriculture.
Hungary X . X Indefinite (sectoral agreements), 1-3 years (single-employer) Sectoral collective agreement between MOSZ and MEDOSZ since 2003 (though not supported by all employers and extension to whole sector has not been sought). 64 single-employer agreements in agriculture in 2004, covering 22.6% of workforce - sectoral structure and low union density hinders local bargaining.
Ireland X . . - The Joint Labour Committee (JLC) for agricultural workers - made up of equal numbers of employer and worker representative, plus an independent chair - sets minimum rates of pay and conditions of employment. Some issues relevant to agriculture covered in national intersectoral agreements. No company bargaining reported.
Italy X X . 4 years Province-level collective agreements play major role in agriculture, building on minima laid down in the national sectoral agreement. On wages, province-level agreements establish pay rises (on the basis of the inflation rate) and pay levels for agricultural employees (although the national agreement fixes the minimum rates), plus the provincial supplementary bonus (patterned on company bonuses).
Latvia X . X nd National sectoral agreement in place, plus 28 enterprise collective agreements (covering some 5,500 employees)
Lithuania X . . 2 years In June 2005, LŽŪDPSF union and LŽŪBA employers' body for large-scale agriculture signed the first sectoral collective agreement (though content essentially reiterates provisions of the Labour Code). No company bargaining.
Malta . . X 3 years Few collective agreements concluded, all at company level. GWU has four agreements (three with producer cooperatives and one with a food processing organisation) and UHM has one (with a food processing organisation).
Netherlands X . . Usually up to 1 year (exceptionally up to 2.5 years) Sector-wide collective agreements on broader issues (eg training and pensions), while issues such as pay dealt with in subsectoral agreements (notably in greenhouse horticulture, open cultivation, animal farming, landscaping companies and contracting firms). Unusually, no company-level bargaining or negotiations with works councils. Bargaining coverage is 77% in agriculture.
Norway X . X (white-collar only) 2 years The main collective agreement is that for blue-collar workers in the agriculture and nursery sectors, while there are several agreements covering white-collar workers in agricultural services. No company-level bargaining for blue-collar workers. White-collar workers (if unionised) have some type of company-level wage setting.
Poland . . . . No collective bargaining reportedly occurs in agriculture.
Romania X . X 1 year National sectoral collective agreement, plus two agreements for groups of companies.
Slovakia X . X Usually 1 year National sectoral collective agreement, which sets framework for subsequent enterprise-level collective agreements. Collective agreements cover approximately 25% of employees in agriculture.
Slovenia X . . 4 years National sectoral collective agreement for agriculture and food-processing industry. No known company-level bargaining.
Spain X X X 2 years As in most other sectors, there is a patchwork of sectoral (both national and lower level) and company agreements, but the former are more important. In 2004, there were 92 agreements in force in agriculture, hunting and forestry, affecting 798,716 workers and 210,570 companies. Of the agreements, 44 were at company level, covering only 1,918 workers, while 48 were at other levels, covering 796,798 workers.
Sweden X . X 3 years National sectoral collective agreements (separate for various blue- and white-collar groups), built on by local bargaining.
UK X . X Usually 1 year (AWB orders) Minimum wage rates and other terms and conditions for each category of worker set by sector-specific statutory Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), made up of representatives of employers and workers, plus independent members. Otherwise, only 11.62% of employees have their terms and conditions of employment affected by union agreements, at company and lower levels.

Source: EIRO.

Other forms of social dialogue and consultation

Apart from collective bargaining proper, a number of countries have some form of social dialogue on issues relevant to the agriculture sector, involving the social partners alone and/or the social partners and the government. At purely sector level, this is not very common. In Belgium, the sectoral joint commissions in agriculture provide a forum for general bipartite social dialogue as well as collective bargaining, while Hungary has a recently formed Agricultural Sectoral Dialogue Committee (Mezőgazdasági Ágazati Párbeszéd Bizottság). Two particularly interesting cases are as follows:

  • in Italy, an Agro-Food Negotiating Committee (Tavolo Agroalimentare) was set up by prime-ministerial decree in 1999. The committee - composed of representatives of farming organisations, cooperatives, the food industry, commerce, trade unions, consumer associations, and regional governments - is tasked with relaunching the agro-food sector through modernisation of farm businesses, the development of depressed areas, and employment creation; and
  • the Dutch Social and Economic Council (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER) has set up 12 'commodity boards' (Productschappen) in 12 subsectors of agriculture and fisheries. Their task is 'to promote business operations by the businesses for which it has been established which serves the general interest, and to represent in general the collective interests of the businesses and the persons involved'. They involve those organisations that work with the same product, from raw material to end product (ie 'vertical organisation' of the production chain). The boards of control of these boards are made up of equal numbers of representatives of employers’ organisations and of trade unions.(NL0307102F).

Formally or informally, the sectoral social partners considered as representative are consulted by ministries of agriculture or similar in countries such as Bulgaria, Denmark and Romania. Social partner organisations may also be represented on agriculture-specific social security funds, as in France (or on an ad hoc basis in Poland), or training bodies, as in Italy.

It is more common for the agriculture sector social partners to be represented directly or indirectly on national tripartite or bipartite consultative forums or processes of an intersectoral nature (eg economic and social councils), which may deal (alongside their other work) with matters of agricultural relevance. Reflecting the differing patterns of social partner organisation (see above under 'The social partners in agriculture') it seems that employers are quite often represented in such national forums through their specific peak organisations - as in Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain - while agriculture trade unions are represented indirectly through their membership of wider confederations. However, agriculture employers have no specific representation on these bodies in countries such as the Czech Republic, Latvia and Malta.

Beyond 'social dialogue' involving representatives of both employees and employers, organisations representing agricultural interests are often involved in dialogue with the government and other parties on matters such as market regulations, prices, financial support for agri-food producers, business regulations and policy matters addressed by the CAP. For example, there are negotiations between the government and agricultural producers in countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Norway and Romania - in Norway, for example, farmers’ organisations and the state negotiate prices and subsidies on an annual basis in order to secure farmers’ income. In Italy, employers’ associations are involved in territorial 'green committees' (Tavoli Verdi) which provide a forum for concertation on agricultural and environmental issues among representatives of the farm businesses, environmentalist associations and local authorities.

Conflicts and disputes

As seen above, industrial relations in the sector are far from typical. There is a wide diversity of actors and large scope for discussions and negotiations, but a much smaller than usual scope for collective bargaining since employees usually form just a minor part of total employment. Conflicts and disputes thus do not necessarily take the traditional form of disagreements between employers and employees, but are more likely to arise as a result of disagreements between actors in agriculture (employers and/or employees) on one side and on the government on the other side (sometimes related to the implementation of the CAP). The conflicts that may arise in the sector can be grouped into those:

  • between employers and employees/trade unions (ie labour conflicts);
  • between employers, employees or both on one side, and the government on the other; and
  • between farmers or agricultural businesses and the food processing industry.

In six of the countries examined - Austria, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Norway and the UK - no significant disputes of any of these types are reported in the last five years. By contrast, in Slovakia all three types of dispute have been recorded over the past five years.

Labour conflicts

Labour conflicts between employees and employers during the past five years are reported from only 12 of the 26 countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) and in all countries the level of such industrial action seems to be well below the national average. Sector-specific statistics are rare, but the picture from Italy seems fairly indicative - in 2002 (the most recent year for which definitive data are available), there were 12 episodes of industrial action (2% of the national total) in the agricultural sector, a total of 6,374 workers (0.7% of the national total) took part, and the unworked hours totalled 52,000 (0.85% of the total). In Romania, the number of labour disputes in agriculture fell from a peak of 44 in 1994 to 39 in 1999 and to just one in 2003. The number of participants in the disputes diminished from 9,674 in 1994 to 400 in 2003.

Issues at dispute in these conflicts seemed largely to be those that are most prominent in most sectors (TN0506101U), such as pay and pay systems (as in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden), unpaid wages in central and eastern European countries (such as Bulgaria and Slovenia), working time (as in the Netherlands) or job losses (as in Cyprus). However, there are a number of issues at dispute that arguably seem to reflect particular aspects of employment in agriculture, such as: work without employment contracts (Bulgaria); subcontracting and the attempts to have farm work performed by the cheapest labour possible (Cyprus); regulation of casual labour (the Netherlands); and non-compliance with collective agreements (Finnish strawberry picking and horse raising).

Examples of notable recent disputes include the following (interestingly, few are in the 'core' farming sector):

  • there was a 22-day strike (one of the country's longest in recent years) in May-June 2000 at the largest farm in Cyprus (owned by Phassouri Plantations Co Ltd) over the company’s decision to dismiss 24 workers because of staff reorganisation aimed at addressing serious financial problems. Following a number of tripartite and bipartite meetings, the strike ended on the basis of a compromise proposed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, which was accepted by both sides;
  • while industrial action in primary agriculture is rare, slaughterhouse workers are among the most strike-prone groups in Denmark (DK0301105F), with disputes often centring on pay. For example, in summer 2005, some 350 slaughterhouse workers were on strike at Danish Crown's giant new abattoir in Horsens (the largest in Northern Europe), owing to dissatisfaction with a new payment system. Another significant pay dispute took place in 2004, involving dairy technicians, dairy workers and drivers;
  • the only known instance of industrial action in Finnish agriculture over the past five years was a one-month strike by 500 artificial inseminators in 2002;
  • the only reported instance of industrial action related to Irish agriculture over recent years actually refers to a conflict at a sectoral trade organisation, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), which was still unresolved in summer 2005. Seven ICMSA employees were on long-term strike in a dispute over alleged bullying and harassment;
  • in the Dutch landscaping sector, there has recently been a fierce conflict over flexible working time between the LTO employers’ organisation and FNV Bondgenoten union, after the CNV Bedrijvenbond union reached a collective agreement that FNV found unacceptable. The employers wanted the option for workers to work 120 hours extra in the summer period without financial compensation. FNV members in the sector held strike actions and finally mediation was called in to get the negotiations back on track. There was also a dispute in the glasshouse horticulture sector in 2004, when LTO sought adaptation of the wage structure to that in other sectors, seeing wages as too high in view of labour market developments. FNV Bondgenoten suspected LTO of wanting to close the wage gap between regular workers and illegal temporary workers in the sector, and was concerned about displacement of regular labour by casual labour and of Dutch legal (expensive) employees by foreign (illegal and cheap) employees. An agreement on a new wage structure was later reached, introducing both lower and higher wage scales;
  • mobilisations were organised by trade unions in the Spanish agriculture sector in 2002-3 in protest at a reform of the special agricultural unemployment benefit system proposed by the government. The plan was withdrawn, following the protests and a threat of a general strike in the sector, though the unions were not entirely happy with the amended proposals (ES0302201N);
  • in February 2004, Slovenia's KŽI union organised a one-hour strike aimed at placing pressure on employers to continue negotiations over a sectoral collective agreement; and
  • in May 2002, some 2,000 Swedish horticultural workers belonging to the Kommunal union held an overtime ban in support of an improved pay agreement and gave notice of strike action. However, an agreement was reached after three weeks of the overtime ban and the planned strike was cancelled.

Other types of dispute

Disputes between agricultural employers or employees or both, on one side, and the government, on the other, are reported from 12 countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain). Divergent interests between producers of primary agricultural products, on one side, and the food processing industry, on the other, seem less likely to take the form of open disputes, with such events reported from only five of the 26 countries. All of these are new EU Member States (Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia) and it seems likely that a major cause of such disputes lies in the lower degree of vertical integration of agri-food producers than in the old Member States.

Protest actions used in these 'other' types of dispute include marches, public meetings, pickets and, less frequently, road or railways blockades, and the issues at stake vary. To give some examples:

  • in France, conflicts in recent years involving farmers and other producers have mostly been local , focused on income-related issues, or have arisen from serious events such as rising oil prices or BSE in agriculture, a major 1999 storm in forestry, or the problems of pollution created by the Erika oil-spill in the fishing industry;
  • in Hungary, major conflicts have taken place between farmers and the government and between farmers and retailers/hypermarkets/purchasing companies. Conflict between farmers and the government usually arise over the level of aid for the former, and demonstrations have often been organised - for example, a spectacular clash took place in February-March 2005 because of a delay in the payment of direct EU funding. Hundreds of farmers and their tractors blocked the traffic on main roads and finally came to Budapest to demonstrate in front of parliament. The conflict was resolved by an agreement between the ministry of agriculture and the farmers' representative organizations. Conflicts between small farmers and hypermarkets often concern payment deadlines and resale at a loss;
  • Italy's most serious recent farming conflict involved milk producers (mainly concentrated in the north of the country), who were producing more milk than allocated to them by the EU quota system. In 2002, nearly 26,000 producers were fined for exceeding their quotas and, following a dispute between them and the government, they refused to pay their fines. The producers mounted high-profile protests (such as a march of tractors on Rome and the blockading of motorways and railway lines) that had a great impact on the media and public opinion . The government resolved the dispute by insisting that the milk quotas be respected while paying some of the fines and getting the deadlines for payment of the fines to the EU extended;
  • Latvian farmers organised a number of demonstrations in 1999 and 2000, including road blockades, in order to protect the local market against uncontrolled agriculture imports (eg of meat and eggs). These protests resulted in the government deciding that national support for agriculture should be not less than 3% of GDP, and agreeing on the conditions for subsidies. The government also implemented some temporary actions (such as stronger custom controls and higher custom duties on sensitive imports); and
  • from 1999 to 2003, there were a number of protests by Lithuanian farmers, often involving the blocking of roads. The main reason was the extremely poor economic situation in rural areas, and the protesters' main demands were for higher prices for agricultural products and the establishment of minimum prices for milk, sugar beet and other agricultural products.

In many cases, such protests involve only farmers and other producers, rather than employees or trade union organisations. However, there are a number of countries where conflicts with governments and food-processors have also involved trade unions, arguably bringing these disputes more into the sphere of 'industrial relations'. For example:

  • in the Czech Republic, there have been frequent country-wide public demonstrations, petitions to the government and parliament to resolve the crisis in agriculture, and other mass protest events organised by both farmers' organisations and the OSPZV-ASO trade unions, and sometimes jointly. Initially these were against agricultural imports and to draw attention to other problems in the sector. More recently (eg in December 2002 and June 2003), the objective has been to support equal rights for Czech farmers in the EU;
  • a protest march and meeting were organised by Romania's AGROSTAR trade union in Bucharest in June 2005. The union feared mass redundancies following the adoption of a new law on land property and complained about not having been consulted. Protesters handed in a list of 16 demands, mainly related to increases in the subsidies and support provided by the state to agri-food producers; and
  • in the past five years, the OZZP trade union has been involved in various protest actions. For example, it has held a protest march through Bratislava and blockaded motorways in protest at a social policy reform, organised protests at the Slovak-Czech border (together with Czech agricultural trade unions) demanding subsidies similar to those in the EU 15 countries, and held rallies in front of the EU representation office in Bratislava, calling for an increase in the level of direct payments in agriculture.

Current issues in industrial relations

Leaving aside issues that might be described as agricultural policy matters (subsidies, prices, the CAP, production levels, taxation etc), which are naturally a major preoccupation of all parties in the sector, a number of themes are topical in industrial relations in several countries. One of the main issues is immigrant labour, which is considered below. Another common theme, often linked to immigrant labour, is seasonal work. This is on the agenda in number of countries:

  • seasonal work (performed almost exclusively by immigrants), has steadily grown in Germany since 1989. The IG BAU union is worried about the ongoing replacement of permanent jobs by temporary and particularly seasonal jobs, though it acknowledges the necessity of non-permanent employment for German farms’ competitiveness. IG BAU is demanding a higher recruitment rate of German nationals for seasonal work, with unemployed people receiving relevant training. The union also wants binding collectively agreed standards for the accommodation of seasonal workers;
  • in July 2002, the sectoral social partners in France signed an agreement on seasonal workers and 'prospective employment management', which provides for specific housing, living and working conditions for seasonal workers, and strives to turn agricultural jobs into permanent ones and forecast labour requirements;
  • in cooperation with the public authorities, the Dutch agricultural employers' association, LTO, operates a seasonal labour project (since 2002) offering a 'one-stop shop' for finding temporary employment and a 'register of hired labour in agriculture' scheme, seeking to regulate casual labor by way of the registration and certification of contracting firms; and
  • in Belgium (where some employers report increasing difficulties in finding enough seasonal workers to meet requirements), there is debate over the application to seasonal work of the 'immediate declaration of employment' (DIMONA), a recently introduced immediate electronic report of the beginning and end of an employment relationship between a worker and an employer (BE0406303T).

Irregular/illegal employment (again often involving immigrant workers) is reportedly common in agriculture in many countries. Perhaps the most notable joint social partner response is in Italy, where in May 2004, employers’ associations trade unions signed a joint opinion (in the presence of representatives of the government and public institutions) to promote the regularisation of illegal workers by means of good practices and concrete proposals. The government will implement the agreement with the necessary legislative measures. The joint opinion prioritises: monitoring of the phenomenon; the stabilisation of employment; compliance with workplace safety regulations; advice to the government on reform of the 'social shock absorbers' (see table 5 above), and relief on tax and social contributions in order to promote the regularisation of certain categories of workers (non-EU immigrants, for example).

Pay and pay structures are prominent issues in agriculture industrial relations in many countries, often reflecting the sector's low-pay status. This is the case in new Member States such as Slovakia and Lithuania - in the latter case, the sectoral social partners signed an agreement in September 2004 on increasing of minimum wage in agriculture to 20% above the national minimum wage, provided that the government made certain tax and social contribution changes (these changes have not yet been made and the agreement has thus not been implemented). Turning to the old Member States, the German government recently announced an extension of the Law on the Posting of Workers - which requires workers posted to Germany to be covered by German pay and conditions, including the minimum wages laid down by collective agreements in certain sectors (DE0306207T) - to additional sectors, including agriculture. The implementation of a minimum wage by a generally binding collective agreement is thus expected to become one of the most important topics in agriculture, and GLFA and IG BAU have declared their willingness to negotiate an agreement on national minimum wages, which the government can declare generally binding, once the revised law has been passed. A concern in French agriculture is the attractiveness of the various occupations within the industry in terms of wage levels (as well as working conditions and social protection). Low pay, is not however, the only wage issue addressed in the sector. For example, in Austria during current negotiations over the the collective agreement for white-collar workers in larger farms, employers are demanding that the wages of entrants should be increased, but the 'life-time wage curve' flattened. In 2003, the Danish slaughterhouse and meat-processing pioneered a 'free choice' scheme, whereby workers may choose between spending 2.7% of the paybill on more leisure time, higher pension contributions or higher wages (DK0305101N). Finnish collective agreements in the sector are being reformed to make the pay levels of agricultural workers more dependent on individual competence and performance.

In several countries, the structure of collective bargaining is currently on the agenda. Austria's ANG union is calling for the inclusion of the wood-processing sector in the collective agreements for forestry, since this sector is not covered at present, while employers' organisations want to to modernise and harmonise some aspects of collective agreements in agriculture. In Germany, a modernisation of the sector's framework collective agreements, especially the pay framework, is currently being discussed. In the Netherlands, the FNV Bondgenoten union has developed a plan aimed at increased cooperation between employers and unions and among the subsectoral joint 'commodity boards' (see above), with the goal of achieving a single central collective agreement for the whole primary sector that acts as a sectoral framework laying down standard conditions on working time, wage structure and social funds etc, while leaving enough room for deviations at subsector level.

Other topical issues in agricultural industrial relations include:

  • social security, pensions etc, as in Germany and Spain, for example;
  • health and safety, as in Latvia, Lithuania and the UK; and
  • training, as in Denmark, France and Latvia.

Immigrant workers

Agriculture is a sector where, in some countries, there is considerable use of labour from other countries, especially for seasonal work (harvesting etc). This seems especially true in many EU 15 countries, where there is often a tradition of using immigrant labour, but the phenomenon is increasing due to domestic labour shortages and the EU's eastwards enlargement. In the new Member States (with the exceptions of Cyprus and Slovenia) and candidate countries, foreign labour is nor presently an issue in agriculture. These countries are often the source of migrant agricultural workers in the old Member States, and some labour shortages seem to be arising as a result (eg in Latvia), though is too early to tell if this will result in labour immigration from lower-pay countries.

The following examples illustrate the scale of the immigrant labour force in agriculture in western European countries:

  • seasonal labour in Austrian agriculture has always been characterised by a high share of immigrants, and the government pursues a relatively generous quota policy - currently, the quota allows for about 7,000 harvest helpers to be temporarily employed during harvests;
  • employers in Danish agriculture find it hard to hire people for certain jobs, for example fruit- and berry-picking, and it appears that they are turning to workers from the new Member States to meet the shortage. According to the Ministry of Employment, of new work permits given to new workers from central and eastern Europe, almost half relate to agriculture and gardening;
  • it is estimated that about half of all seasonal workers in Finnish agriculture have in recent years been foreign nationals;
  • since 1998, Germany has experienced a steady increase (by 61%) in the immigration of foreign temporary workers. According to latest official data, 303,353 immigrant workers were temporarily employed in agriculture in 2004, of whom nearly 280,000 came from Poland;
  • immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, undertake a significant part of Greek agricultural work, filling the long-standing shortage of manual labour in the sector. According to the National Statistical Service, out of 391,674 immigrants 68,682 (53,721 men and 14,961 women) are actively involved in agriculture, animal production, hunting, forestry and fishing, though the presence of illegal immigrants the true scale of the phenomenon hard to assess;
  • non-EU immigrant workers have considerably increased their presence in the Italian labour market in recent years and in 2003, there were 1,867 immigrants, equal to 0.3% of total immigrants in regular employment, working on regular contracts in agriculture. However, it is likely that this figure is underestimated, given that official surveys report that one-third of workers in the agricultural sector are illegal, and are therefore not included in the statistics, and that estimated hidden employment is even higher for non-EU immigrant workers;
  • there are a substantial number of seasonal workers from the new EU Member States in the Norwegian agricultural sector, and such employment was also common before enlargement in 2004. In 2003, the number of foreign employees in seasonal employment (in which the primary sector/agriculture predominates) was just below 18,000 and more than 80% came from Poland and Lithuania - since enlargement, the number is though to have increased; and
  • in 2002, 49,529 work permits were awarded to foreign workers in the Spanish agriculture sector, 5.5% of the workforce, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. This figure is an underestimation owing to the high - but difficult to estimate - level of illegal employment.

The social partners have expressed various views - and in the case of trade unions, sometimes fears - about the increasing presence of immigrant workers in agriculture over recent years, but concrete initiatives have been rare, especially joint employer-union actions. There are exceptions, however. For example, in Denmark LO and SALA are currently cooperating on an integration project, aiming to create better job possibilities for immigrants in SALA's member companies. Ireland’s current tripartite national pact, Sustaining Progress (IE0301209F and IE0304201N) covers a range of issues pertaining to immigrant labour. The social partners in Norwegian agriculture are agreed that foreign employees (mainly seasonal workers from the new Member States, but also others) should not be exploited, and that standards laid down in work permits and Norwegian legislation and regulations must be followed - this applies not only to pay but also to working conditions and standard of accommodation.

Trade union concerns are illustrated by the views of those in Austria, which believe that seasonal work performed by foreign workers endangers the level of income and working conditions in Austria. They argue that employers, in particular subcontractors, increasingly tend to employ unskilled, cheap or even illegal workers instead of skilled people. They are also reluctant to employ full-time workers. The ANG union believes this policy will be damaging in the long term, especially in forestry. Cypriot trade unions are concerned that it is almost exclusively immigrants with very few employment rights who carry out farm work. Unions sometimes extend temporary membership to foreign seasonal workers, an example being Sweden's Kommunal, which also provides them with information about wage and other important issues. An interesting example of cross-border union cooperation is that between IG BAU in Germany and ZZPR in Poland, which in August 2003 jointly published a bilingual information booklet aimed at Polish seasonal workers in German agriculture, providing these workers with a wide range of information on legal and trade union matters (DE0310204N). Furthermore, in September 2004, IG BAU announced the foundation of the European Migrant Workers Union, which addresses posted and seasonal workers in all industries, but in the initial phase will concentrate on migrant workers in construction and agriculture who work for a limited period of time in one or several EU Member States. The aim is to provide those workers with legal assistance and advice, support them in the event of sickness or accident, help them to receive correct payment for work done and promote the provision of better accommodation (DE0409206F).

Employers' organisations seem largely to direct their efforts to securing an advantageous regulatory environment. For example, Germany's DBV and GLFA, which see seasonal workers from abroad as vital for farms to sustain their competitiveness, have successfully called for the extension of the maximum employment period of seasonal workers from three to four months per year and want changes to social security rules in order to alleviate administrative burdens for farmers. Another example is that the Austrian Chamber of the Economy (WKÖ) has demanded a further extension of the country's seasonal labour scheme. Another type of employer initiative is reported from Norway, where in 2003 the sectoral organisations developed a 'handbook' for employers (farmers, market gardeners etc) employing foreign employees. In Finland, MTK has turned to providing education to people from the Baltic States about the needs of Finnish agriculture, since it has become increasingly difficult to find skilled labour domestically.


Agriculture is a very distinctive sector of the economy and there is great heterogeneity and diversity among the 26 countries examined, which have differing climatic conditions, economic and socio-political systems and histories - factors that determine particular situations, issues, institutions and resolutions, including in the field of industrial relations. Agriculture is a living industry with its own distinctive features and rules, many of which cannot be changed by human intervention. For example, despite the progress made by natural sciences and biology, a new species or new basic product in agriculture cannot be created quickly, and the production and working cycle cannot yet be regulated mechanistically. The concept of new and/or enhanced products, with special qualities and a high degree of competitiveness - which is an issue in industrial relations in other sectors of the economy, often generating disputes between social partners - is quite another matter in agriculture. Owing to the specificities of agriculture, several aspects of industrial relations cannot evolve according to general, standardised and uniform rules - working time for instance must be organised according to the lifecycle and the needs of plants and animals. In addition to its production and commercial purposes, agriculture is a factor in competitiveness in the economy - for example, a rise in food product prices may trigger wage claims in other industries, affecting efficiency and employment.

Agriculture in European countries is currently going through a further stage of major structural change, focused on: continuing the concentration of farming activities and increasing the average size and turnover of farms; increasing competitiveness as a result of domestic and international competition in the EU internal market and more widely based on World Trade Organisation rules; standardising, levelling and harmonising product sale rules; and greater attention to livestock health, protection of the environment and bio-diversity. There is a huge range of issues currently affecting the sector, such as: overpopulation and agricultural depopulation; demographic ageing; income levels and security; BSE and foot-and-mouth disease; genetically-modified organisms; bio-diversity; climate change; protection of the environment; organic agriculture versus productive agriculture; animal welfare; soil erosion; and water management. The current structural challenges are having some dramatic effects, particularly in the new and future EU Member States.

In this context, this comparative study has attempted to delineate the key aspects of industrial relations in agriculture in Europe. Its main findings include the following.

  • In the 26 countries examined, 6.6% of total employment is in agriculture, though the proportion varies between 3.6% in the old EU Member States considered to 12.4% in the new Member States and 31.4% in the two candidate countries. Men make up the majority of agricultural employment in all countries (62% on average), most notably in the old Member States. The most distinctive aspect of employment in agriculture (apart from the high degree of seasonality) is that 72% of all those in employment are self-employed and only 28% are employees - this fact has a major role in shaping industrial relations in the sector.
  • In some countries, a number of aspects of employment conditions (such as working time), social protection and industrial relations in agriculture are governed by a specific, separate legal framework.
  • In virtually all countries, agriculture is a low-pay sector, where average wages are below the overall national average and often considerably so. In this context, the regulation of minimum wages may be of particular significance in agriculture. In the 18 countries with a statutory national minimum wage, this in all cases applies to agriculture in the same way as to other sectors. Ireland, Malta and the UK also have a specific statutory mechanism for setting minimum pay rates in agriculture. In many cases, on top of the statutory national minimum wage, sectoral or subsectoral collective agreements lay down (usually) higher minima. In the eight countries without a national minimum wage, sectoral or subsectoral collective agreements (with varying degrees of coverage) play the main role in regulating minimum pay - it generally appears that the minimum collectively agreed wages in agriculture are below the average set by agreements in other sectors.
  • The prevalence of self-employment in the sector means that in some cases there is no clear line of demarcation between trade unions and employers’ organisations in agriculture.
  • There is a variety of patterns of trade union representation of agricultural workers, often reflecting broader national patterns in terms of affiliation to confederations, separate representation for blue- and white-collar workers etc. Agricultural workers are rarely represented by a sector-specific, free-standing trade union, but are usually organised in wider unions or federations also representing workers in, for example, the food industry, or in broad general or industrial workers' unions. This absence of specific agricultural trade unions in most countries reflects the downward trend of employment in the sector. There are, though, cases of specific agricultural workers' unions, mainly in new Member States where agriculture has a more substantial share of the economy and employment. The number of agricultural trade union members is usually relatively small and the density/coverage rate below the national average - reflecting the fact that small enterprises and self-employment are prevalent, with a relatively small number of employees in most cases, while much work is temporary or seasonal, and farms are spread over wide geographical areas.
  • Identifying employers' organisations in the sense that they exist in most other sectors is not always simple in agriculture, as the majority of owners/farmers do not employ paid workers. Among strictly defined employers' organisations, a feature in many countries is that - unlike trade unions - agricultural employers' interests are represented by separate structures, outside the 'mainstream' of employers' representation in most of the economy. Agricultural employers’ organisations often represent a high proportion of employers, and in many countries organise a greater proportion of their potential constituency than trade unions.
  • The structure of collective bargaining in agriculture varies considerably between countries, often following differences in overall national bargaining systems. However, there are several features that seem to be distinctive to agriculture across at least some countries. These seem largely to reflect the fact that self-employment is the rule in many countries and employees (whose pay and conditions are the core issue in collective bargaining) are in a minority, and generally employed at farms or other workplaces with very small workforces. These factors may explain the reported absence of collective bargaining in agriculture in Greece and Poland (while the absence in Estonia appears more due to other issues). Among the other 23 countries, sectoral bargaining of some kind is reported in all cases but Malta, and company bargaining is reported in 14 cases. Overall, it seems that the prevalence of sectoral bargaining (sometimes even in countries where this is not the norm) can, at least in part, explained by the considerable difficulties encountered in organising lower-level bargaining in the sector, especially in the case of new Member States, as a consequence of factors such as small employment units, geographical dispersion or low union density. Under such conditions, sector-level bargaining seems to be the simplest way to conclude collective agreements in agriculture.
  • While statistics are not always available, in many countries agriculture seems to have a below-average rate of collective bargaining coverage. In general, collective agreements in agriculture deal with the main themes of bargaining in the country concerned, though they may also deal with matters of particular importance to agriculture, principally aspects of seasonal/casual employment.
  • Apart from collective bargaining proper, a number of countries have some form of social dialogue on issues relevant to the agriculture sector, involving the social partners alone and/or the social partners and the government. At purely sector level, this is not very common. It is more common for the agriculture sector social partners to be represented directly or indirectly on national tripartite or bipartite consultative forums or processes of an intersectoral nature, which may deal (alongside their other work) with matters of agricultural relevance.
  • Conflicts and disputes in agriculture do not necessarily take the traditional form of disagreements between employers and employees, but are more likely to arise as a result of disagreements between actors in agriculture (employers and/or employees) on one side and on the government on the other side (sometimes related to the implementation of the CAP). Recent labour conflicts between employees and employers are reported from only a minority of countries.
  • Key current issues in industrial relations in a number of countries include immigrant workers, seasonal work, irregular/illegal employment, pay and pay structures, collective bargaining structure, social security, health and safety and training.

The future of agriculture in Europe seems strewn with uncertainties, resulting from the internal characteristics of the sector as well as the EU enlargement process. In the expanding Union, key issues include the free movement of labour, differences between geographical areas with diverse infrastructures, deregulation, European and global competition and new CAP guidelines. Consensus through dialogue could generate a necessary reform of the traditional institutions and mechanisms specific to industrial relations and to implementing the CAP. (Luminita Chivu, Ciutacu Constantin and Diana Preda, Institute of National Economy, Romania, with additional material by Mark Carley, SPIRE Associates).

Annex. Agriculture in Europe

Utilised agricultural area and cultivated area

The 26 countries covered by this comparative study cover a total area of 455 million hectares, of which agriculture utilised 180.4 million hectares in 2003, and 90.6 million hectares were cultivated with various crops - see table A.1 below.

The utilised agricultural area (UAA) and the area cultivated with crops vary widely as a proportion of the total area of each country. In the 13 'old' EU 15 countries considered, UAA represents 36.9% of the total area and the area cultivated with crops represents 18.5%. The respective figures are: 47.3% and 28% in the new Member States (NMSs); 41% and 20.3% in the current EU as a whole; and 42.4% and 21.4% in the EU plus the two candidate countries. The countries where the UAA makes up the smallest proportions of national area are Norway (3.2%), Finland (6.6%) and Sweden (7.0%), and those where the UAA is proportionally greatest are Hungary (68%), UK (64.4%), Ireland and Romania (both 62.2%).

The size of cultivated areas is a major issue in industrial relations in agriculture, especially in the context of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget and support for farmers’ income, in one form or another, by national governments. The size and structure of agricultural areas has an impact on the annual work volume and the distribution of working time among permanent, temporary, seasonal and occasional activities, as well as on costs and income and their respective cyclical patterns.

Table A.1 Total national areas, utilised agricultural area (UAA) and area cultivated with crops, 2003
. Thousand hectares As % of total national farmland As % of the combined area of the 26 countries
Total area UAA Cultivated with various crops UAA Cultivated with various crops Total area UAA Cultivated with various crops
Austria 8,385.8 3,374 1,141 40.2 13.6 1.8 1.9 1.3
Belgium 3,052.8 1,393 735 45.6 24.1 0.7 0.8 0.8
Denmark 4,309.8 2,676 2,212 62.1 51.3 0.9 1.5 2.4
Finland 33,814.0 2,216 1,337 6.6 4.0 7.4 1.2 1.5
France 54,908.7 29,599 14,720 53.9 26.8 12.1 16.4 16.2
Germany 35,703.1 16,974 10,396 47.5 29.1 7.8 9.4 11.5
Greece 13,195.7 2,554 2,060 19.4 15.6 2.9 1.4 2.3
Ireland 7,029.5 4,372 372 62.2 5.3 1.5 2.4 0.4
Italy 30,133.6 15,421 7,754 51.2 25.7 6.6 8.5 8.6
Netherlands 3,552.5 1,951 826 54.9 23.3 0.8 1.1 0.9
Spain 50,488.0 24,840 10,851 49.2 21.5 11.1 13.8 12.0
Sweden 45,029.5 3,140 1,333 7.0 3.0 9.9 1.7 1.5
UK 24,410.1 15,722 4,279 64.4 17.5 5.4 8.7 4.7
Total 13 old EU MS 314,013.1 124,232 58,016 39.6 18.5 69.0 68.9 64.0
Cyprus 925.1 137 96 14.8 10.4 0.2 0.1 0.1
Czech Republic 7,886.5 3,652 2,385 46.3 30.2 1.7 2.0 2.6
Estonia 4,522.7 698 334 15.4 7.4 1.0 0.4 0.4
Hungary 9,303.4 6,326 4,082 68.0 43.9 2.0 3.5 4.5
Latvia 6,458.9 1,596 539 24.7 8.3 1.4 0.9 0.6
Lithuania 6,530.0 2,903 1,216 44.5 18.6 1.4 1.6 1.3
Malta 31.6 10 7 31.6 22.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Poland 31,268.5 16,891 10,612 54.0 33.9 6.9 9.4 11.7
Slovakia 4,903.4 2,236 1,238 45.6 25.2 1.1 1.2 1.4
Slovenia 2,027.3 505 166 24.9 8.2 0.4 0.3 0.2
Total 10 NMS 73,857.4 34,954 20,675 47.3 28.0 16.2 19.4 22.8
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 387,870.5 159,186 78,691 41.0 20.3 85.2 88.3 86.8
Bulgaria 11,099.4 5,325 3,377 48.0 30.4 2.4 3.0 3.7
Romania 23,839.1 14,819 8,563 62.2 35.9 5.2 8.2 9.4
Total CCs 34,938.5 20,144 11,940 57.7 34.2 7.7 11.2 13.2
Total EU 23 CCs 422,809.0 179,330 90,631 42.4 21.4 92.9 99.4 100.0
Norway 32,387.7 1,038 ... 3.2 ... 7.1 0.6 ...
Total 26 countries 455,196.7 180,368 90,631 39.6 19.9 100.0 100.0 ...

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Crop production

Cereals are by far the most important group of agricultural crops in the countries examined. The area cultivated with cereal crops in the 26 countries totalled about 60.5 million hectares in 2003, of which wheat made up 29.9 million hectares, barley 14.3 million hectares and corn 9.2 million hectares.

The most extensive areas cultivated with cereal crops are found in France (9.3 million hectares), Poland (8.3 million hectares), Germany (6.9 million hectares), Spain (6.6 million hectares) and Romania (6.0 million hectares). Wheat covers 5.6 million hectares in France, 4.1 million hectares in Italy, 3.3 million hectares in Spain and 3 million hectares in Germany. The three leading barley cultivators are Spain (3.1 million hectares), Germany (2 million hectares) and France (1.6 million hectares), while the largest areas covered by corn are found in Romania (2.9 million hectares), France (1.8 million hectares), Hungary (1.2 million hectares) and Italy (1.1 million hectares).

The share of the various groups of crops in each country's area cultivated with crops, and each country's share of the total cultivated area of the 25 countries (Norway excepted) given over to each crop, is presented in table A.2 below. Data are not given on horticultural production, but it should be noted that it is particularly important in the Netherlands, which is Europe's market-leader in the production of flowers, plants, bulbs and trees.

Table A.2 Main crops, share of each in national cultivated area, and national shares of the total 25-country cultivated area for each crop, EU Member States and candidate countries, 2004
. Total cereal crops (%) Industrial crops (oil seed and sugar beet) (%) Vegetables and potatoes (%) Orchards and vineyards (%) Green fodder (%)
Share of national cultivated area National share of total 25-country cultivated area for crop Share of national cultivated area National share of total 25-country cultivated area for crop Share of national cultivated area National share of total 25-country cultivated area for crop Share of national cultivated area National share of total 25-country cultivated area for crop Share of national cultivated area National share of total 26-country cultivated area for crop
Austria 71.3 1.3 13.6 1.4 3.2 0.7 4.8 0.8 7.1 1.2
Belgium 42.2 0.5 15.9 1.0 15.8 2.3 2.4 0.3 23.7 2.6
Denmark 69.1 2.5 6.4 1.3 1.9 0.9 0.4 0.1 22.2 7.3
Finland 89.0 2.0 7.5 0.9 2.9 0.8 0.6 0.1 0.0 0.0
France 63.2 15.4 14.8 19.3 3.0 8.9 7.3 15.0 11.7 25.4
Germany 66.8 11.5 17.3 16.0 3.7 7.7 1.5 2.2 10.8 16.6
Greece 62.2 2.1 20.3 3.7 8.1 3.3 2.0 0.6 7.4 2.3
Ireland 80.4 0.5 8.9 0.3 5.6 0.4 0.0 0.0 5.1 0.3
Italy 52.4 6.7 7.4 5.1 7.2 11.1 20.7 22.5 12.3 14.2
Netherlands 28.2 0.4 13.8 1.0 29.3 4.8 2.5 0.3 26.2 3.2
Spain 61.0 10.9 8.9 8.6 4.7 10.2 22.0 33.5 3.4 5.4
Sweden 83.7 1.8 9.5 1.1 2.9 0.8 0.4 0.1 3.6 0.7
UK 75.8 5.4 14.4 5.5 6.3 5.4 0.6 0.4 2.8 1.8
Total 13 old EU MS 63.7 61.1 12.6 65.1 4.9 57.4 9.3 75.8 9.4 80.9
Cyprus 60.4 0.1 0.0 0.0 10.4 0.2 29.2 0.4 0.0 0.0
Czech Republic 65.5 2.6 20.4 4.3 2.3 1.1 0.5 0.2 11.3 4.0
Estonia 77.5 0.4 9.9 0.3 5.4 0.4 5.4 0.3 1.8 0.1
Hungary 72.3 4.9 16.3 5.9 3.7 3.0 4.3 2.5 3.4 2.0
Latvia 77.0 0.7 6.9 0.3 12.2 1.3 2.4 0.2 1.5 0.1
Lithuania 75.5 1.5 7.8 0.8 9.9 2.4 3.5 0.6 3.3 0.6
Malta 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 28.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 71.4 0.1
Poland 78.2 13.7 7.1 6.7 9.2 19.5 3.5 5.3 2.0 3.1
Slovakia 66.2 1.4 18.9 2.1 3.2 0.8 1.6 0.3 10.0 1.8
Slovenia 59.6 0.2 6.0 0.1 6.0 0.2 13.3 0.3 15.1 0.4
Total 10 NMS 74.4 25.4 11.2 20.6 7.0 28.9 3.4 9.9 4.0 12.3
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 66.5 86.5 12.3 85.8 5.5 86.3 7.8 85.7 8.0 93.2
Bulgaria 63.1 3.5 14.4 4.3 3.6 2.4 17.2 8.1 1.7 0.9
Romania 70.5 10.0 13.1 9.9 6.6 11.3 5.1 6.2 4.7 6.0
Total CCs 68.4 13.5 13.4 14.2 5.8 13.7 8.5 14.3 3.9 6.8
Total EU 23 CCs 66.8 100.0 12.4 100.0 5.5 100.0 7.9 100.0 7.4 100.0

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

In terms of production of particular crops, the 25 countries for which there are comparable statistical data produced about 250 million tonnes of cereals in 2003 (282 million in 2000), 17.9 million tonnes of sugar (agricultural year 2004/5), 36.7 million tonnes of fruit (2003), 61.7 million tonnes of vegetables and 61.7 million tonnes of of potatoes (2003) - see table A.3 below.

France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Romania have a significant output of cereals. Germany and France each account for a fifth of the total sugar beet output, followed by Poland (9.7%). The main fruit producers are Spain (28.2% of total output) and Italy (25.0%), followed at some distance by France (11.3%) and Poland (9.0%). Italy (21.9%) and Spain (21.2%) lead in vegetable production, with other major producers being France (9.7%), Romania (7.6%) and Poland (7.2%). Finally, the leading potato producers are Poland (22.3%), Germany (16.1%), the Netherlands (10.5%) and France (10.3%).

Table A.3 Output of certain crops in EU Member States and candidate countries, most recent figures
. Total cereals Sugar beet Fruit (excluding citrus ) Vegetables Potatoes
2000 2003 2004/5 2003 2003 2003
Total EU 23 CCs (thousand tonnes) 281,872 250,494 17,887 36,748 61,669 61,693
Total EU 23 CCs (%), of which: 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Austria 1.6 1.7 2.3 2.1 0.8 0.9
Belgium 0.9 1.0 5.1 1.6 2.5 4.1
Denmark 3.3 3.6 2.5 0.1 0.4 0.7
Finland 1.5 1.5 0.8 0.0 0.4 1.0
France 23.3 21.9 22.6 11.3 9.7 10.3
Germany 16.1 15.7 21.3 3.5 4.6 16.1
Greece 1.4 1.6 1.2 8.5 6.4 1.4
Ireland 0.8 0.9 1.2 0.1 0.4 0.8
Italy 6.9 6.6 5.6 25.0 21.9 2.6
Netherlands 0.6 0.8 5.6 0.0 6.3 10.5
Spain 8.4 8.2 5.6 28.2 21.2 4.5
Sweden 1.9 2.1 2.1 0.1 0.4 1.4
UK 8.5 8.5 7.3 0.7 3.7 9.6
Total 13 old EU MS 75.2 74.2 83.2 81.2 78.6 63.8
Cyprus 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.5 0.2 0.2
Czech Republic 2.3 2.3 2.6 0.5 0.5 1.1
Estonia 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.4
Hungary 3.6 3.5 2.2 2.0 2.2 1.2
Latvia 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.1 0.3 1.2
Lithuania 0.9 1.1 0.7 0.3 0.6 2.1
Malta 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0
Poland 7.9 9.3 9.7 9.0 7.2 22.3
Slovakia 0.8 1.0 1.0 0.1 0.3 0.6
Slovenia 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.1 0.2
Total 10 NMS 16.3 18.0 16.8 13.0 11.6 29.4
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 91.5 92.1 100.0 94.1 90.2 93.2
Bulgaria 1.9 2.7 0.0 0.0 2.2 0.5
Romania 6.7 5.2 0.0 5.9 7.6 6.4

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Livestock production

In 2004, across the 26 countries examined, statistics indicate that there were 91.6 million cattle, 202.4 million pigs, 109.3 million sheep, 13.3 million goats, 3.9 million horses, 1,306.4 million poultry, 101.7 million rabbits, 8.4 million bee hives, 1.2 million mules and 0.5 million asses. The three leading countries for each species are as follows: cattle - France (19.2 million), Germany (13.4 million) and the UK (10.5 million); pigs - the UK (50 million), Germany (26.5 million) and Spain (24 million); sheep - the UK (35.5 million), Spain (24 million) and Greece (9 million); goats - Greece (5.4 million), Spain and France (both 1.3 million); and poultry - France (260 million), UK (181.1 million and Spain (129 million). To get an overall picture, the numbers of the various species of livestock can be converted into 'conventional livestock units' (CLUs), calculated as the sum of the results obtained by multiplying livestock numbers by coefficients for the various species (for cattle 0.85, pigs 0.3, sheep and goats 0.09, horses 1.0, asses and mules 0.9, rabbits 0.07 and poultry 0.05). Using this method, the 26 countries considered had a total of 162.2 million CLUs in 2004, of which 28.2 million were in the UK, 23.5 million in France, 20.7 million in Germany, 16.3 million in Spain, 10.9 million in Italy and 10.8 million in Poland - see table A.4 below.

Table A.4 Total livestock, expressed in conventional livestock units (CLUs), density per 1,000 inhabitants and density per 100 hectares of utilised agricultural area (UAA), 2004
. Livestock numbers Livestock density
Thousand CLUs % of the 26-country total CLU/1,000 inhabitants CLU/100 hectares of UAA
Austria 2,897 1.8 358.9 85.8
Belgium 4,411 2.7 424.1 316.7
Denmark 5,542 3.4 1,026.2 207.1
Finland 1,344 0.8 258.5 60.7
France 23,533 14.5 394.9 79.5
Germany 20,731 12.8 251.3 122.1
Greece 2,379 1.5 215.9 93.1
Ireland 7,786 4.8 1,946.5 178.1
Italy 10,926 6.7 190.7 70.9
Netherlands 7,291 4.5 450.1 373.7
Spain 16,274 10.0 399.8 65.5
Sweden 2,102 1.3 236.2 67.0
UK 28,224 17.4 476.0 179.5
Total 13 old EU MS 133,440 82.3 362.0 107.4
Cyprus 292 0.2 417.2 213.2
Czech Republic 2,345 1.4 229.9 64.2
Estonia 341 0.2 243.7 48.9
Hungary 2,544 1.6 251.9 40.2
Latvia 501 0.3 217.9 31.4
Lithuania 1,118 0.7 319.5 38.5
Malta 17 0.0 42.9 171.7
Poland 10,813 6.7 283.1 64.0
Slovakia 1,095 0.7 202.8 49.0
Slovenia 623 0.4 311.4 123.3
Total 10 NMS 19,689 12.1 265.4 56.3
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 153,129 94.4 345.8 96.2
Bulgaria 1,586 1.0 203.3 29.8
Romania 6,291 3.9 288.6 42.5
Total CCs 7,877 4.9 266.1 39.1
Total EU 23 CCs 161,006 99.3 340.8 89.8
Norway 1,211 0.7 263.4 116.7
Total 26 countries 162,218 100.0 340.1 89.9

Note: CLU = see main text for definition; MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: Based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The average density of livestock, expressed in CLUs per 1,000 inhabitants and CLUs per 100 hectares of UAA - see figures A.1 and A.2 below - indicates an extremely varied distribution by countries. In terms of density expressed in CLU/1,000 inhabitants, Ireland is at the top of the list (1,946.5 CLU/1,000 inhabitants), followed at a great distance by Denmark (1026.2) and at a further considerable distance by the UK (476). Measured as CLU/100 hectares of UAA, the highest livestock density is found in the Netherlands (373.7) and Belgium (316.7), while the lowest are in Bulgaria (29.8) and Lithuania (31.4).

Figure A.1 Livestock density (CLU/1000 inhabitants)

Figure A.1 Livestock density (CLU/1000 inhabitants)

Figure A.2 Livestock density (CLU/100 hectares of UAA)

Figure A.2 Livestock density (CLU/100 hectares of UAA)

Source: FAO.

In 2003, the leading countries in terms of livestock output by major farm producers, by type, were as follows:

  • beef and veal - France (1.6 million tonnes), Germany (1.3 million tonnes), Italy (1.1 million tonnes), Spain and the UK (both 0.7 million tonnes);
  • pork - Germany (4.2 million tonnes), Spain (3.2 million tonnes), France (2.3 million tonnes), Poland (2 million tonnes), Denmark (1.8 million tonnes), Italy (1.6 million tonnes) and the Netherlands (1.3 million tonnes);
  • poultry meat - France (2.1 million tonnes), the UK (1.6 million tonnes), Spain (1.3 million tonnes), Italy and Germany (both 1.1 million tonnes);
  • eggs - Spain (1.1 million tonnes), France (1 million tonnes), Germany (0.81 million tonnes), Italy (0.79 million tonnes) and the UK (0.7 million tonnes); and
  • milk - Germany (28.5 million tonnes), France (24.6 million tonnes), the UK (15 million tonnes), Poland (11.9 million tonnes), the Netherlands (10.9 million tonnes) and Italy (10.8 million tonnes).

Number, structure and average size of farms

In 2003, the total number of farms in the EU and the two candidate countries considered was about 15.2 million - see table A.5 below. In the past 10 years, the number of farms in these countries has declined by around 2.5 million. In the EU 25, the number of farms declined by 20%-25%, with the greatest rate of disappearance in NMSs in central and eastern Europe (for example, with falls of 30% in Poland, 43% in Estonia, 47% in Latvia and 49% in Lithuania). In the old Member States, the most significant reductions in the number of farms have been registered in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Over 1998-2003, the number of farms in Norway also decreased, by 18%. According to the available data, it seems that the only old Member State where the number of farms has grown is the UK (to 281,000 in 2003 from 243,000 in 1993).

The average size of farms varies widely: 1 hectare in Malta; 2 hectares in Romania; 3.5 hectares in Cyprus; 5.6 hectares in Hungary; 6.3 hectares in Slovenia; 7 hectares in Poland; 17 hectares in Austria; 23-25 hectares in the Netherlands and Belgium; 32 hectares in Ireland; 40-45 hectares in France and Germany; 46 hectares in Sweden; 55-57 hectares in Denmark and the UK; and 66 hectares in Czech Republic. Broadly speaking, the average size of farms grows as one moves from east to west.

Table A.5 Number of farms, average size and structure by size categories, 2003
. Number of farms (1,000) Percentage of the 25-country total number of farms (%) Average size of farms (hectares) Structure of farms by size categories (%)
0-5 hectares 5-50 hectares Over 50 hectares
Austria (2000) 199 1.3 17.0 36.4 59.1 4.5
Belgium 55 0.4 25.4 27.9 57.2 14.9
Denmark 49 0.3 54.7 3.7 60.9 35.4
Finland 75 0.5 29.9 9.9 73.6 16.5
France 614 4.0 45.3 27.6 39.4 33.0
Germany 412 2.7 41.2 23.6 56.1 20.3
Greece 817 5.4 4.4 76.8 22.7 0.5
Ireland 135 0.9 32.3 7.7 74.3 18.0
Italy (2000) 2,152 14.1 6.1 78.3 20.0 1.7
Netherlands 86 0.6 23.5 29.6 58.2 12.2
Spain (2000) 1,128 7.4 22.3 57.5 34.7 7.8
Sweden 68 0.4 46.1 10.4 61.2 28.4
UK 281 1.8 57.4 36.9 36.2 26.9
Total 13 old EU MS 6,071 39.8 - - - -
Cyprus 45 0.3 3.5 87.6 11.5 0.9
Czech Republic 54 0.4 66.9 60.5 28.8 10.7
Estonia (1997) 37 0.2 21.6 50.8 43.5 5.7
Hungary 773 5.1 5.6 89.6 9.0 1.4
Latvia (1997) 141 0.9 10.2 55.5 42.1 2.4
Lithuania (1996) 279 1.8 9.1 61.6 36.6 1.8
Malta 11 0.1 1.0 98.2 1.8 0.0
Poland (1996) 2,178 14.3 7.0 64.7 34.4 0.9
Slovakia (1996) 72 0.5 29.8 91.9 4.8 3.3
Slovenia (1997) 77 0.5 6.3 57.5 42.2 0.3
Total 10 NMS 3,667 24.0 - - - -
Total 13 old EU MS 10 NMS 9,738 63.8 - - - -
Bulgaria 1,780.6 (1997) 11.7 nd nd nd nd
Romania 3,739.1 (1997) 24.5 2 nd nd nd
Total CCs 5,519.7 36.2 - - - -
Total 25 countries 15,257.7 100.0 - - - -

Note: MS = Member State; NMS = new Member State; CC = candidate country.

Source: based on data from European Commission (Agriculture in the European Union; Statistical and Economic Information 2004, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, February 2005) and EIRO.

Table A.6 below summarises some of the main characteristics of farms in the countries concerned - in terms of whether their owners operate them as farms full time, their ownership, type etc - and trends in this area.

Table A.6 Some major farm characteristics and trends in Europe
Austria With regard to structure, there is a slight increase in the number of full-time farms and farms owned by legal entities or partnerships. Average farm size is increasing. In terms of farm types, there is a noticeable rise in the number of specialised farms (the number of mixed-type and 'permanent-cropping' farms is falling). The only farms to register a growth in number over 1999-2003 were product processing farms; the number of farms producing for the market is falling at a faster than average rate.
Belgium Of all farms, 70.6% are operated full time and 93%-94% are individually owned and operated farms - the rest are public or semi-public enterprises.
Bulgaria Some 51.5% of households in Bulgaria are involved in agriculture, and of these 95.6% derive their income from land cultivation. Of all farms: 99.3% are privately owned individual farms, which cover 25.6% of all farmland; 0.3% are legal entities, covering 23.3% of farmland; and 0.4% are cooperatives, covering 50.6% of all farmland. Most farms are subsistence farms.
Cyprus Family farms cover 93% of the country’s farmland, while enterprises cover 5% and the public sector owns the rest.
Czech Republic Cooperatives hold 28% of the country’s agricultural land. Some 90% of farmland is farmed on the basis of paid labour and business plans, while 10% is utilised by family farms. Over 72% of farmland is utilised by farms owned by legal entities, mostly commercial companies.
Denmark Owners of agricultural land exceeding two hectares are obliged by law to cultivate it. In 2003, 35% of all farms were cereal crops farms, 15% cattle-raising farms, 7% pig-raising farms, and 43% mixed farms. When a farm has 250 head of livestock, an environment-impact evaluation is conducted and any extension of the farm can be approved solely on the basis of this evaluation.
Estonia In 2003, 97.9% of farms were in individual ownership, and only 2.1% were owned by legal entities. In the same year, 82.4% of farms achieved an annual 'standard gross margin' (SGM, ie the value of a farm's output, minus the cost of the variable inputs required to produce it) of up to EUR 2,400, 15.1% an SGM of EUR 2,400 to EUR 19,200, and 2.5% an SGM of over EUR 19,200. Some 61.1% of all farms were mixed, 14.6% arable and 19.3% livestock. Specialised farms are larger on average. Farms owned by legal entities represent 2.1% of the total number, cover 41% of the farmland and achieve 51.5% of the total national SGM. Individual owners utilise 58.7% of the agricultural area, of which 49.7% is their property, 3.4% on lease and 46.9% share-farmed. Legal entities utlise 41.3% of agricultural area, of which 6.1% is owned, 19.3% on lease and 74.6% share-farmed.
Finland Owing to the particular geography of the country, half the farmland is wooded area. Out of the total number of farms in 2003, 39% were cereal crops farms, and 25% dairy farms. Most farms are commercially-based; subsistence farms have almost entirely disappeared. Individual ownership and family farms predominate; the share of company-owned and shared-farming entities is negligible.
France From 1993 to 2003, the number of farms fell by nearly 200,000 (23%), while the average farm size grew by 10.2 hectares (from 35.1 to 45.3 hectares). In 2003, 27.6% of farms had an average area of 0-5 hectares, 39.4% were in the 5-50 hectares range and 33% were over 50 hectares.
Germany Individual and self employed farms represent 94.3% of the total number and 68.9% of the agricultural area; 4.5% of farms are partnership-type and cover 13.3% of the farmland, while 1.2% are incorporated farms and cover 17.8% of the farmland. Some 42.5% of all farms are individual commercial farms, covering 53.2% of the farmland, while 51.7% are semi-commercial farms, covering 15.7% of the farmland. Currently there are 16,500 organic farms and their number is growing; they represent 3.9% of farms and cover 4.3% of the farmland.
Greece The number of large farms (20-50 hectares) grew by close to 10,000 over 1990-2003 while farms of over 50 hectares doubled in number. Livestock farms tend to be small: 63% of cattle-raising farms have 1-19 heads of cattle; 75.9% of pig farms have 1-9 pigs; while 69.8% of dairy farms have 1-19 heads of cattle.
Hungary At the end of 2004, there were 13,264 business organisations registered in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sector, plus about 766,000 individual farmers. The number of cooperatives (which used to be the most widespread organisational form in the state-socialist period) has decreased, while the number of other business organisations (mainly of limited partnerships) has grown. In 2000, 60% of individual farmers produced for subsistence and only 8% for commercial purposes. However, since 2003 the number of commercial farms has grown by 4%. The average farmland of business organisations was 503 hectares in 2003 (a 24% decrease from 2000) while the average land of individual farmers was just over 3 hectares (a 22% increase since 2000). Recent years have seen a concentration of cultivated arable land: 20% of the business organisations, cultivating 88% of the agricultural land, farm more than 300 hectares. At the same time, 72% of individual farmers have less than one hectare and only few cultivate more than 300 hectares
Ireland The total number of farms in Ireland had fallen to 141,500 in 2000 from 223,400 in 1980. Almost all farms are family owned and operated, and the average farm size in 2000 was 31.4 hectares. Owing to the focus of the country’s agriculture on raising livestock, 80% of the agricultural area is devoted to grass (silage, hay and pasture), 11% to rough grazing and only 9% to crop production.
Italy Small and very small farms predominate; 91.7% are family farms, covering 77.7% of the agricultural land and 51.3% of livestock. Farms are quite heavily specialised: 87.7% are crop-raising farms; 10.2% are cattle-raising farms; and only 2.7% are mixed.
Latvia In 2001, there were 180,300 farms, of which only 140,800 were active. Of these: 36,700 were 'peasant' farms (with an average area of 37.5 hectares); 96,500 were 'household plots' (with an average area of 11.9 hectares); 6,000 were 'private subsidiary' farms (average area of 6.4 hectares); 73 farms were the property of central and local authorities (average area of 146 hectares); and 479 were commercial companies (average area of 390 hectares).
Lithuania In 2003, out of the total of 635,000 farms, only 272,000 covered over 1 hectare of agricultural area. Of these: 271,500 were family farms with an average area of 8.1 hectares; and 610 were commercial farms with an average area of 496 hectares.
Malta A notable feature is that two-thirds of the agricultural area is state-owned and only one-third is in private ownership. Out of the total agricultural area only 20% is the private property of farmers, while the rest is leased. Overall, there are 10,150 hectares of agricultural area shared out between 11,960 farms. Of these, 73.9% are less than 1 hectare in size, while 943 are livestock farms with no land ownership.
Netherlands Over 1993-2003, the overall number of farms fell by 29%. There was an especially steep decline in the number of farms specialised in intensive breeding of livestock (-48%); dairy farms (-34%) and greenhouse and mushroom farms (-32%). The number of arable farms fell by only 13%. The main causes of the overall decline are the proliferation of certain diseases (in pigs and poultry) and international competition. The average size of farms is growing. The average size of farms is still growing. In the arable sector, the number of holdings with more than 100 hectares has increased threefold over 10 years. These large farms account for 20% of the arable area, against 10% in 1980. In the glasshouse horticulture sector, holdings of over 5 hectares now account for 20% of production against 1% in 1980. In the dairy sector, the percentage of farms with more than 100 cows has risen from 3% in 1980 to 10% in 2003, and these holdings now own 20% of the dairy herd. Pig farms with more than 1,500 animals now account for 35% of the total stock, against 6% in 1980. In general, larger farms generate higher incomes and are more innovative
Norway The agricultural sector is dominated by self-employment farms with no employees, employing only occasional temporary workers; half of farms require the input of less than person per year (ie those involved farm only part time), while the rest use the input of one or more people - the farmer, his/her family and/or hired personnel. Over 1998-2003, the number of farms decreased by more than 18%.
Poland Some 99.9% of farms are privately owned, and only 74.2% of all farms are active in agriculture, of which 20.4% are subsistence farms and 79.6% are commercial. Of commercial farms, 4.7% own less than 1 hectare, 14% own less than 2 hectares and 95% have under 15-20 hectares. Of the total number of farms, 45.3% are specialised.
Romania In 2003, there were 4,485,000 farms. with an average size of 3.1 hectares. Of these: 4.460,000 were individual farms (with an average area of 1.7 hectare); and 22,7000 were legal entities, of which 8,400 were private enterprises (with an average size of 374 hectares), 5,700 were state-owned companies (with an average size of 504 hectares), 87 were associations (27 hectares on average) and 85,000 were 'other' farms (24 hectares on average). More than 3.4 million are subsistence farms, covering 38.2% of the farmland; 0.95 million farms are semi-commercial, covering 30.6% of the farmland; and only 100,000 are commercial farms, covering 31.2% of the farmland.
Slovakia In 2003, there were 6,500 farms operated by individual farmers (accounting for 9.1% of the total number of farms and 10.2% of the agricultural area), with an average size of 42 hectares; there were 937 commercial companies (36.4% of the agricultural area), with an average size of 934 hectares; and 647 agricultural cooperatives (51.4% of the agricultural area), with an average size of 1,601 hectares. In 2001, there were 63,500 subsistence farms (88.7% of the total number, accounting for 2% of the agricultural area) with an average size of 0.5 hectares.
Slovenia In 2000, family farms represented 90% of all farms, and had an average size of 5.9 hectares. There were 131 large commercial farms, with an average size of 290 hectares. The average annual income of family farms is EUR 4,800, and that of large commercial farms is EUR 548,400. In 2004, 55% of all farms were mixed and 45% specialised.
Spain Some 57% of farms are 1-20 hectares in size, though 69% of useful farmland belongs to farms of over 50 hectares. From 1993 to 2003 the total number of farms fell while the average size grew from 17.9 hectares to 22.3 hectares. In 2003, 7,100 farms did not use any agricultural area.
Sweden In 2004, there were 130,800 farms, of which 94% had no employees. In 2002. there were 71,000 farms with an area of over 2 hectares; of these, 52.9% fully owned the farmland, 14.7% used leased farmland and 45.7% exploited the land in a mixed system (the figures include fishery and hunting operations).
UK The total number of farms grew from 243,000 in 1993 to 281,000 in 2003 and the average farm size fell from 67.3 hectares to 57.4 hectares. In 2002, in England only (excluding Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), there were 65,100 farms, with an average size of 127 hectares and an average annual income of EUR 102,000. Of these, 43.9% were small farms with an average size of 50 hectares, 32% were medium-sized farms with an average size of 111 hectares, and 24.1% were large-scale farms with an average size of 290 hectares.

Source: EIRO.

Mechanisation, chemical fertilizers/pesticides and IT systems use

In general, the degree of mechanisation in agriculture is closely linked to the size of the farm; as a rule, in countries where the average agricultural area per farm is small, farmers do not have the financial resources necessary to buy much farming machinery. For certain activities they may resort to companies specialised in agricultural services.

In central and eastern European countries, change in land ownership in recent years was followed by a reduction in the degree of mechanisation and in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

All countries are engaged in raising the degree of mechanisation, including the use of robots and automatic equipment in animal husbandry, while striving to decrease and even eliminate entirely the use of pesticides that have a negative impact on the environment and on the health of humans and livestock.

The development of information technology (IT) use in farming has been notable in some cases: in Germany, farm households are currently above the national average in the use of computers, the internet and mobile telephony; in France the agricultural IT budget registers an annual growth of 7%; in Belgium, a third of farms use computers and a quarter are connected to the internet; in Denmark, there is a national database and software dedicated to animal husbandry; in the Netherlands, computers are reportedly part of everyday life on farms; in the Czech Republic, over two-thirds of farms are connected to the internet; in Norway, IT is used on a large scale, as it is in Sweden; and in Poland, 17.1% of farm households have computers, 4.8% have access to the internet and 35% use mobile telephony.

In recent years, the share of (bio)organic farming is growing in terms of number of farms and cultivated area.

Farm income

National statistics provide survey-based data on farm incomes; these are difficult to homogenise, but some figures are provided in table A.7 below.

Table A.7 Data on farm income in various countries
Austria In 2003, the average annual income of agricultural and forestry establishments totalled EUR 45,000. The highest incomes were obtained by farms producing for the market (EUR 55,400), followed by farms with permanent crops (EUR 53,400), while the lowest incomes were those of feed-production farms. The distribution of feed-production farms by categories of annual family income was the following: 4.6% had negative results or obtained less than EUR 2,500 per farm; 84.2% obtained EUR 2,500-EUR 25,000; 10.1% obtained EUR 25,000-EUR 50,000; and 0.8% had an income of over EUR 50,000. In the case of market-goods production farms, the distribution by the same categories of income was 6.2%, 44.5%, 39.7% and 9.6%.
Czech Republic Farmers’ incomes vary from one year to the next; in 2003 only individual farms obtained positive results while in 2004 the final figure was positive for all types of farms. Individual farms with over 300 hectare of farmland and limited-liability farms obtained the highest productivity per worker.
Denmark Since 1980, the agricultural sector has registered the highest productivity growth in the national economy (4.6% average annual rate compared with the national average of 1.6%). In 2003, the annual gross incomes of full-time farmers averages DKK 700,000, while part-time farmers earned DKK 473,000 on average. Incomes differ by sector: the average annual gross income for cattle farms is DKK 631,000, compared with DKK 490,000 obtained by cereal crop farms.
Finland National or EU subsidies represented 45% of the global income from agriculture in 2004 (EUR 4 billion). The growth of subsidies following EU accession (1995) helped maintain the level of farmers’ income. In 2004, the average net farm income was about EUR 23,000 per family (EUR 5,000 lower than in 1994).
Germany In the fiscal year 2003/4, the annual average income of commercial farms was EUR 28,250, while semi-commercial arable farms earned EUR 4,300 (14.5% of the average level).
Netherlands The evolution of annual average farm incomes was inconsistent between 2001 and 2003. The most spectacular growths occurred in the case of egg-production farms (which were not affected by the AI syndrome) whose income increased 3.5 times. The income of greenhouse farms, pot-plant holdings and fruit-production farms also grew; a steep decline occurred in the income of pigs and poultry farms; while mushroom, cereal crops, dairy farms etc also registered a fall in income.
Poland The income of farming households represented on average, per individual, 76.5% of the national average.
Romania According to survey data gathered in 2003, the annual income per individual in farming included EUR 282 earnings in cash and EUR 628 household self-consumption; in the same year, the national annual average wage was EUR 1,882.

Source: EIRO.

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