Social Protection

Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems

Extending social security to agricultural workers

Agricultural workers


Nearly half of the world’s population, more than three billion people, live in rural areas. In many countries, rural areas play a significant economic role. Around 28 percent of the people in employment are estimated to work in the agricultural sector, which amounts to nearly one billion people around the globe. Of these, many are operating in the informal economy (93.6 per cent) with variable and often low levels of income and without adequate social protection coverage.

This module stresses specific challenges for the extension of social security to agricultural workers and explores some policy options, based on international experience and guided by ILO social security standards 


  •  What are the specific challenges with regard to including agricultural workers under social security legislation?
  •  How can agricultural workers be included under social security legislation?
  •  What else needs to be considered when aiming at including agricultural workers under social security legislation?


  •  Legal exclusion: In some countries, workers in the agricultural sector, or some categories of workers in this sector, are generally excluded from coverage of the main social security of labour legislation, or may be subject to a separate legislation which often provides for a lower level of protection. Furthermore, criteria on the duration of employment or working hours may effectively exclude large groups of agricultural workers, such as temporary/seasonal workers, particularly day labourers, or part time workers. 
  •  Administrative barriers: In the absence of local offices, registration might become challenging and expensive for agricultural workers which results in geographical barriers in accessing social protection services.. These challenges are compounded if workers move between sectors of the economy or between wage employment and self-employment. Such high labour mobility could prevent them from receiving benefits even if they contributed in the past, especially if the administration lacks capacity to record these changes.
  •  Low and volatile earnings: Agricultural workers often have very low earnings which limits their contributory capacities. Agricultural workers may not be able to undertake regular contribution payments as their earnings are linked to the seasonality of the harvest and subject to idiosyncratic and covariate risks.
  •  Lack of enforcement and control: The labour administration may not dispose of sufficient human and other resources to inform, assist and inspect remote agricultural enterprises. This is compounded by difficulties to locate workers, to follow up their membership and ensure compliance with the scheme due to frequent labour rotation.
  •  Lack of information and organization: Many agricultural workers are not organized due to the isolation and remoteness of their work and living place. They may lack information/knowledge about social security schemes and the procedures, and may have difficulties to understand legal rules rising from illiteracy and language barriers.


Extending legal coverage

  •  Include agricultural workers in the general social protection scheme to provide adequate coverage in cases when workers change their employment status or combine (part-time) paid employment and self-employment or implement specific legislation
  •  Adapt the regulatory framework to the specific characteristics of agricultural workers, such as with regard to the assessment of incomes

Facilitate access and simplify administrative procedures

  •  Facilitate registration and enhance the access to administrative procedures for agricultural workers, including the facilitation of physical access through mobile social security offices, reducing the need for supporting documents and simplifying other procedures
  •  Develop integrated service delivery mechanisms, such as one-stop-shops, to improve the access to social protection for self-employed workers, particularly in rural areas
  •  Extending administrative and delivery structures to rural areas, ensuring that rural populations can effectively benefit from services (including health care, education, financial services) and infrastructure
  •  Facilitate access to social security through collective registration agreements with organizations of agricultural and rural workers, such as trade unions, cooperatives or rural producers' associations

Facilitating contribution collection and financing mechanisms 

  •   Allow for the payment of contributions according to seasonal patterns and for greater flexibility with regard to the temporary reduction or interruption of contribution obligations in the case of shocks
  •  Facilitate the payment of social security contributions by allowing greater flexibility regarding the scheduling of contribution payments or allowing for contributing to priority social security branches, introducing differentiated contributory provisions or unified social insurance contributions
  •   Adapt the way how contributions are determined, such as by redefining reference earnings, using contribution categories or considering alternative reference incomes other than earnings
  •   Consider to subsidize (part of) contributions of agricultural workers, especially of those with low incomes

Enhancing compliance and facilitating inspections

  •  Facilitate the inspections of agricultural workers by allocating more resources to inspection services
  •  Raise awareness and promote compliance through prevention measures and combine sanctions with information and awareness raising

Raising awareness and sharing information

  •  Raise awareness among agricultural workers on the importance of social protection and inform them about available schemes and benefits as well as the relevant procedures

Strengthening incentives for formalization through linkages with other policy areas

  •  Linking social protection policies and strategies for the rural economy with other areas of intervention, such as improving access to public and private services in rural areas and promoting employment-intensive investments in infrastructure
  •   Enhancing the voice and representation of rural and agricultural workers



  •  The extension of legal coverage to agricultural workers should be complemented by additional measures to ensure effective coverage of agricultural workers, finding mechanisms that allow for flexibility regarding the time and amount of contribution, facilitate registration and administration, the adaptation of labour inspection mechanisms to the situation of agricultural workers and inform agricultural workers about existing schemes and how to access them.
  •  Evaluate the particular needs and gaps of agricultural workers and adapt schemes to their specificities, especially female agricultural and rural workers
  •   Develop and implement integrated and coherent policies: It is important to link social protection policies with other policies, for instance to promote employment creation, enhance access to credit, especially for women and youth, improve food security and nutrition, improve occupational safety and health, reduce child labour in agriculture and ensure effective application of labour standards.