Employment Trends in the Tobacco Sector
Between the 24th and 28th of February 2003, the International Labour Organization (ILO) organised its first Tripartite Meeting ever on the tobacco sector in Geneva. ‘Tripartite’ here means a meeting gathering representatives of governments, employers and workers.
This meeting was requested by trade-unions from the cigarette manufacturing industry and was intended to discuss the future of employment in the tobacco manufacturing and processing industries.
The ITGA requested that the debate be widened to include the future of employment in the tobacco growing sector. As the ILO would only consider the labour side of growing, the ITGA organised, prior to the ILO’s Tripartite Meeting, a conference to assess the situation of employment in the farming sector (See ‘Socio-Economic Impact’).
The ITGA was admitted to the plenary sessions as observer and was permitted to attend the employers’ sessions. We were also invited to participate in a panel on tobacco economics with representatives from BAT, WHO, FAO and the World Bank.
BAT declined the invitation.
The ILO staff elaborated a reasonably balanced and well-researched report on the present situation of the tobacco sector world-wide entitled ‘Employment Trends in the Tobacco Sector: Challenges and Prospects’.
The meeting had a significant level of participation with representatives from Imperial Leaf, Altadis, Limbe Leaf, ADC (Germany), the Employers’ Federation of Indian manufacturers and BAT (with delegates from United Kingdom, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Argentina and Honduras), on the employers’ side.
PM and JTI did not attend.
Governments also attended in large numbers with representatives from Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Germany, Holland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Nigeria, Philippines, Spain, Thailand and Tunisia.
Workers’ representatives from all the major companies were also present.
In essence, the meeting discussed the following points
- Current employment trends in tobacco manufacturing and growing; Forces driving developments that have a bearing on employment in the tobacco sector;
- Implications of these developments for employment and working conditions in the tobacco sector;
- Action by social partners and governments to mitigate any negative impact of changes in employment levels;
- Measures to be taken by partners and governments to promote decent work in the bidi and kretek industries;
- Action by ILO to assist employment in the sector.
The debate lasted for a week, being divided in plenary sessions and group sessions. Some relevant points crystallised in the course of the meeting and can be recapitulated as follows:
The Conference approved a set of conclusions and five resolutions. This was the biggest number of resolutions approved in a sectorial tripartite meeting in more than a decade.
- Employment in the sector is globally stable but it is a dynamic stability with increases in developing countries and a general decrease in developed countries. The latter was mainly due to technological progress and industry consolidation.
- European directives on nicotine and tar content and similar legislation in other developed countries are also placing pressure on employment in the industry in those countries.
- The conference analysed some particular situations that will impact on the sector. The case of Zimbabwe was referred specially from the workers’ side. The bidi and kretek industries were also discussed in detail, being two of the biggest employers on the manufacturing of tobacco products, with millions of workers involved in the production in India and Indonesia.
- The workers insisted on the need to raise tobacco prices since the steady decrease of prices in the last years has led the growers to cut costs, in turn affecting the workers’ salaries and the level of employment.
- The companies urged all stakeholders to engage in a social dialogue and showed great readiness to accomplish that objective. The workers suggested that ILO should create a Task Force to study and promote social dialogue.
- Governments, workers and employers spoke eloquently about the pioneer work of the ECLT Foundation and the importance of the projects already being put in place.
- The German government representative acting as spokesperson for the government’s delegation made several important statements:
- Employment in the tobacco sector – and especially on its growing side – is highly important for the economies of the producing countries.
Governments must defend the employment in the sector and must define policies aimed at conciliating health concerns with the support of employment in the sector.
- Research on less hazardous tobacco products must be continued given the inescapable reality of continuing tobacco consumption.
- ILO must intensify its cooperation with other UN agencies. WHO was specifically referred to since it was finalising the negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control without heeding the foreseeable impact on employment. ILO’s Director General was specifically requested to communicate the conclusions of the Tripartite Meeting to WHO.
- Resolution Concerning Future Activities of the ILO in the Tobacco Sector
- Resolution Concerning the Strengthening of Institutional Links and Cooperation between International Organizations Working on Issues Relevant to the Tobacco Sector
- Resolution Concerning Child Labour in the Tobacco Sector
- Resolution Concerning Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in the Tobacco Sector
- Resolution Concerning the Employment of Women in the Tobacco Sector