Safety and health at work in agriculture: worker protection in EU policies


From September 27 to 29, 2019, an international seminar was held in Bari (Italy) on the subject of "Safety and health at work in agriculture: worker protection in EU policies". The seminar was organised by FEDER.AGRI. (Federazione Nazionale per lo Sviluppo dell'Agricoltura) in collaboration with Movimento Cristiano Lavoratori (MCL) and the International Platform for Cooperation and Migration (IPCM) and supported by EZA and the European Union. It was part of the EZA project coordination about “Safety and health at work”.

75 employee representatives from Austria, Germany, France, Albania, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania and Italy took part in the three-day seminar.

The first part of the seminar dealt with the importance of prevention and safety at work in agriculture. In recent years, the number of fatal accidents and occupational diseases caused by dangerous substances have increased.

The seminar

The seminar was opened on the first day by Carlo Costalli, President of MCL, an association that works to promote workers' rights. Carlo Costalli underlined the importance of reassessing the role of associations and unions in the defense of workers and their safety. Feder.Agri general secretary Alfonso Luzzi emphasised that the work of the farmer is a job in which traditional and new risks could pose risks to safety and health: the nature of the territory, the use of sophisticated, powerful and difficult machinery and the use of products that are not always harmless and sometimes even highly toxic. In this context, the high risk of fatal accidents was emphasised, which is partly due to the particularly "uneven" soils on which the slopes can seriously affect work, which is particularly important in connection when using agricultural machinery.

After a detailed discussion on these aspects, the speeches by the director of the Interprovincial Consortium for Agricultural Cooperatives, Piero Cavrini, and Sara Angeloni, an occupational physician, also dealt with the illegal and criminal aspects of some recruitment and employment practices in agricultural work. The analysis carried out by Piero Cavrini focused on the phenomenon of "caporalato" and the data of the INAIL (Istituto Nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro), which show a clear correlation between the presence of the "caporalato" and workers. There is an increase in the risk of injuries to workers. The phenomenon not only reconfirms a distortion of competition that is exacerbated by the mutual benefit of the customer who receives a service at a lower cost and the company that benefits from the brokerage, but is also a sign of a general and widespread unlawfulness, aimed at exploitation and working through coercive methods.

The second part of the seminar was also very interesting, in which some countries were compared thanks to presence of representatives of France, Germany and the East Block countries. In particular, the intervention by Joseph Thouvenel, Vice President of the CFTC, who sharply criticised President Macron's work and also drew attention to the protests by French workers.

The German occupational safety system is characterised by its double structure. It includes state health and safety authorities (at the level of the federal administration and each individual country) and autonomous accident insurance institutions. Accident insurance companies issue their own accident prevention regulations after reviewing their needs and subject to approval by the federal government and individual federal states, as Reiner Meier explained. Growth in the agricultural sector has been seen in both Poland and Austria, as Pedro Mota Soares, parliamentarian from Portugal, formerly Minister of Labour, and Norbert Schnedl, GÖD chairman, reported.

The topic of occupational safety was also raised by Andrea Bortolotti from the CTO Vection Group LTD. He focused on compliance and security practices, which can also be addressed through the use of virtual reality tools by establishing a security management system at employer level. A first study, which has become more important today than ever, points to the need to make knowledge of “risk factors for employees and thus the opportunities that sectoral training platforms offer” virtually visible.


In the last part of the seminar, employee representatives from different EU countries contributed their experiences and best practices. Measures were identified that can improve job security in the agricultural sector.

Particular health and safety issues at work have been identified where underpaid foreign workers are employed without provision of decent working conditions. A EU policy and strong promotion of social dialogue can reduce exploitation and thus reduce risks and accidents.

This was a joint assessment and a conclusion that was shared by all participants in the seminar.