Committee on Economic Security (CES)

Volume VI. Social Insurance

I. Security for Agricultural Workers


Constance A. Kiehel

October 25, 1934


To: Dr. Edwin B. Witte

From: Constance A. Kiehel

Subject: Agricultural Workers and Farmers in Foreign Social Insurance Systems


The questions of the inclusion of agricultural workers and farmers in social insurance systems will be considered from three angles. First, to what extent does this type of modern social legislation cover those occupations? Second, what problems have arisen in connection with the inclusion of agricultural pursuits? Finally, what conclusion have the International Labor Office and other standard-making bodies abroad reached on this subject?

Coverage of Agricultural Workers and Farmers by Foreign Social Insurance Laws

Workmen's Compensation

General application to agriculture:

Agriculture was generally excluded in pre-war foreign legislation granting protection against industrial accidents, but coverage features of new laws tend more and more to recognize the worker's right to compensation, whether the work is considered dangerous or involving only a slight occupational risk. On the other hand, the increasing use of machinery in agriculture has hastened the extension of coverage in this field by increasing the hazards of employment and hence the need for workmen's compensation.

At present, not counting five provinces of Canada, in 40(1) or 76 percent of the 52 countries general compulsory workmen's compensation laws apply in a more or less restricted fashion of agriculture and in 14, plus the former Prussian territory of Poland, and(2) 4 provinces in Canada application is unlimited. In only ten countries, not counting one province in Australia and four in Canada agricultural workers are excluded altogether(3).

As might be expected the largest number of exceptions to complete coverage concern the extent to which machinery is used. Germany and many South American countries are important members of this group. The laws in 15 countries(4) exclude from compensation all undertakings without machinery, in six, (5)exempt some small establishments and in a few countries, (6)make minor exceptions in regard to agricultural occupations. Finland, for instance, excludes agricultural workers in 20 thinly populated districts where medical assistance is difficult to organize: the Russian and Austrian territory of Poland excludes them in undertakings of less than 30 hectares in area. Cuba extends protection only to the production of agricultural and forestry products, and the province of Alberta in Canada includes only forestry and lumbering. In countries such as Sweden and Irish Free State where agriculture is covered unrestrictedly, the general exclusion of casual worker also affects the extent of application to agricultural workers.

Special Application to Farmers: This form of social insurance directed, as its name implies, toward the protection of the working man under contract of employment, does not generally apply to farmers. Luxemburg is unique in extending agricultural insurance to cover heads of undertakings whose annual income does not exceed fixed sum. Eight countries, notably, Denmark, France, Mexico, and Netherlands, and four provinces of Canada(7) do not restrict application in the "employed" group. Exclusion o non-manual workers and income restrictions represent older thought on compensation. Great Britain is the most important nation which still limits protection against industrial accidents to non-manuals in low earning groups.(8)

Old-Aged Security, and Invalidity and Sickness insurance

General application to agriculture: Since the economic hazards of superannuation and temporary or permanent physical impairment are not the peculiar province to any special occupation, one might logically expect to find legislation making provision for old age, invalidity, and sickness to be applied without restriction to all walks of life. The trend of today is strongly toward such general coverage.

In 25(9) out of 29 countries compulsory old age pension or insurance laws cover agriculture, and in Russia, the most important of the six(10) nations which still exclude all persons engaged in these pursuits form receiving old age benefits originally planned to introduce general coverage provisions by 1933 and doubtless will in time carry out this plan. Austria is the only nation which insures agricultural workers under a separate act.

In the case of invalidity insurance, 22 countries have general compulsory laws. In 17(11) of the leading countries this legislation covers agriculture completely, although in Austria the act has remained inoperative. In only four countries, Greece, Hungary Romania, and Yugoslavia, legislation continues to exempt agriculture altogether. The Luxemburg law in 1911 completely excluded persons employed in agriculture, but, in 1934, extended coverage to forestry and subsidiary agricultural occupations.

Twenty-three countries and nine cantons in Switzerland have passed compulsory sickness insurance laws. Fourteen(12) of these laws cover agriculture unqualifiedly although in Yugoslavia the act is temporarily suspended. Luxemburg limits application of the law to servants and day laborers employed in agriculture; Poland, in former Austrian territory, limits it to agricultural holdings in less than 75 hectares. This leaves seven nations(13) and former Russian territory in Poland where the law exempts agriculture altogether. Japan, the most important member of this group has recently introduced an amendment annulling this restriction. In Greece the law has remained in-operative since 1922. There remain only five small countries of Esthonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania, all with limited resources, as cases of bona fide exemptions.

General coverage limitations relating to intermittent employment and members of the employer's family are important in connection with agricultural workers. Nine sickness insurance laws, (14)notably in Germany, Great Britain and Russia exclude intermittent employment, defined as temporary, casual, seasonal, or subsidiary work which is distinct from the ordinary means of livelihood. Certain relatives of the employers, usually unpaid, are excluded in a few countries, notably great Britain and Germany.(15)

Special application to farmers: In most countries old-age, invalidity, and sickness insurance legislation coverage is limited to persons working under a labor contract. The farmer who works for himself is completely excluded.(16) In only three countries, Belgium, Chile, and Portugal, do provisions for old-age, invalidity, and sickness insurance cover non-wage earnings groups within certain income limits. Such rulings have limited application apply to farmers since such income limit is not set sufficiently high to include such persons as are not dependent upon their earnings throughout their lives. The French section of the general insurance scheme which applies exclusively to agricultural and forestry workers in unique, among restricted coverage plans, in its application to share farmers. Farmers who are not owners of property farmed on a share basis, and farmers who help members of their families, come under the scope of the insurance if they did not own any part of the livestock when they started work on the farm.

Non-contributory old-age pension laws, principally enacted under British dominion and rapidly being superseded by old-age insurance, apply only to needy citizens with usually a long period of residence within the country and thus have limited application(17) to farmers.

Out of a possible total of 29 countries, only two laws provide unlimited protection to farmers as well as agricultural workers against the risk of old-age and invalidity insurance act which at that time was unique in its coverage of all Swedish citizens between the ages of 16 and 66 years of age. Not until the Danish law of 1934 made invalidity and sickness insurance compulsory for all citizens over 21 and under 60 years did another country follow this example. This action in a nation not only developed voluntary schemes, but constitutes another recognition of the right to the farmer as well as the agricultural worker to participate in the benefits of compulsory social insurance.

Unemployment Insurance

General application to agriculture:

Few countries have included agricultural worker within the scope of their compulsory unemployment insurance laws, and in no country was the coverage complete. At present only agricultural subsidiary industries are covered. In Queensland, Australia, only workers employed in the sugar and pastoral industries are insured, in Austria, persons engage wholly or mainly in sawmills. In Italy, cutting and transport of wood, improvement and irrigation and drainage, and public works alone come within the scope of the act. Bulgaria passed a law in 1925 which covered workers "employed in agricultural undertakings which under the Act respecting agricultural holdings are deemed to be conducted along modern lines," but it has remained inoperative. Compulsory systems in Great Britain, Irish Free State, Poland, and in eight cantons in Switzerland exclude agriculture altogether.

For a period of ten years Germany was a pioneer along these lines. Form 1923 to September 22, 1933, agriculture including forestry was partially covered by unemployment insurance. Excluded groups under this Act which were estimated by the International Labor Office in 1933 as effecting 40 to 50 percent of the total number of all agricultural wage earners, covered workers:

Employed in agriculture for less than six months,

Engaged under a written contract of employment for less than a year,

Engaged under an indefinite contract with less than six months notice rights,

Owners of tenants (or their dependents) or holdings where income therefrom was sufficient for their support.(18)

The total exemption of agriculture from unemployment insurance which occurred in Germany in 1933 was the by-product of a recent attempt to enforce compulsory mobility of agricultural labor throughout the country and eliminate the need for agricultural unemployment insurance without financially burdening the German landowner.

Since experience under compulsory systems is so limited, it is well to examine conditions in countries with voluntary insurance systems all of which theoretically admit agricultural workers.(19) In practice, however, because membership in these systems is limited to trade union membership, the coverage of agricultural workers is negligible except in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, and Netherlands. This coverage, based mainly on figures collected by the International Labor Office in 1933, may be estimated at around 170,000(20) insured workers in agriculture and allied occupations.

Due to the long period during which trade union organization has partially covered agriculture, small groups of agricultural workers in Netherlands and Denmark have been successfully insured against unemployment throughout the post-war period.

Special application to farmers: As yet, farmers have not been included in any kind of unemployment insurance systems.

Problems Relating to the Inclusion of Agricultural Workers in Social Insurance Systems

Problems relating to the inclusion of agricultural workers in social insurance systems do not appear to be difficult except in the case of unemployment insurance. Even here perhaps, the novelty of the undertaking rather than the actual difficulties involved constituted the chief obstacles.

Until recently unemployment in agriculture was negligible in character, but since the war it is becoming more extensive in many countries. Increasing use of machinery is the chief cause of this phenomenon, (21)which, since the recent depression, has become more apparent when the farmer was deprived of his customary markets, and country districts were subjected to an influx of unemployed workers from industrial centers. Fragmentary statistics of unemployment among agricultural workers collected by the International Labour Office for Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Sweden bear out these conclusions.(22)

An interesting reflection of these conditions is shown by the change in attitude of the Scottish Farmers Workers Union between 1925 and 1930 on the subject of the need for extending the coverage of unemployment insurance to include agricultural workers. In 1925, they dissented from the majority report of the inter-Departmental Committee on Agricultural Unemployment, which recommend extending the scope of the Act to agricultural workers in England and Wales. In 1930, before the Royal Commission they registered their approval(23) of including Scotland in the plan.

The Commission itself admitted the problems which must be faced regarding the uncertainty of the weather element in the estimation of risk, the fluctuation of work, the casual laborer and the lowness of wage rates in agriculture as compared with industry. Nevertheless, they concluded that, altogether further information was necessary in the cost of the scheme, extension of coverage to include agriculture would be desirable and undoubtedly tend to diminish the casual labor problem and increase the mobility of agricultural labor in general.(24)

Social Insurance Legislation Relating To
Standards For Average of Agricultural Workers and Farmers

Old-Age, Invalidity, and Sickness Insurance:

The minimum standards for old-age, invalidity, and sickness insurance relating to agriculture in the draft convention of the International Labour Office in 1933 and 1934 are concerned exclusively with agricultural workers. Farmers as self-employing individuals are entirely left out.

Scope and Coverage
Included groups Manual and non-manual workers in agricultural undertakings, including apprentices and domestic servants(25) in household of agricultural employees.
Excluded groups Workers not remunerated, above a prescribed amount(26) and in liberal professions;
Workers not paid a money wage;
Young workers and those too old to be insured when first employed;
Home workers whose conditions or employment do not resemble those of wage earners;
Members of the employer's family;
Persons whose employment is so short that they cannot qualify for benefit,(27) and those engaged in subsidiary employment;
Students working during periods of study;
Invalid workers and those in receipt of invalidity or old age pensions;
Those entitled, under legislation or special schemes, to benefits equivalent to those provided under the convention.

Unemployment Insurance:

In the 1933 International Labour Conference at Geneva, five nations put themselves on record in favor of including agricultural workers in a general scheme of unemployment insurance.(28) Spain and the province of Manitoba in Canada preferred a special law for these workers. Finland favored general application of insurance to all workers. Manitoba in Canada preferred a special law for these workers. Finland favored general application of insurance to all workers, but did not especially include agriculture. Great Britain referred to the difficulties of administering the scheme and thought the subject deserved further investigation. Six nations came out against such inclusion.(29)

As a first step in the analysis of the different types of agricultural workers in any formulation of a plan for insuring unemployed agricultural workers, an analysis by the British Royal Commission(30) may prove illuminating.

Classes of Agricultural Workers
Workers in regular employment but working for more than one employer;
Workers whose only occupation is agriculture, but who are not employed for the whole year;
Workers who are employed in agriculture for the greater part of the year and in some other occupation at other times;
Workers employed in temporary or seasonal work such as fruit picking, pea picking, hop picking, etc., who do not seek employment at other times.
It was the opinion of the Commission that casual workers in every category should be studied.



Armstrong, Barbara Nachtrieb, Insuring the Essentials, N.Y., MacMillan Co., 1932.

International Labour Office, International Survey of Social Services. Studies and Reports, Series M No. 11, (1933). Compulsory Pension Insurance. Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Statutes. Studies and Reports, Series M (Social Insurance) No. 10 (1933). Non-Contributory Pensions, Studies and Reports Series M (Social Insurance) No. 9 (1933). Unemployment Insurance & Various Forms of Relief for the Unemployed, (agenda) Int. Lab. Conf., 19th Session (1933). Ibid, Report II, Int. Lab. Conf., 18th Session (1934).

Legislative Series, Draft Conventions and Recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference at its Sixteenth Session held 1919-19232 (1932). Ibid at its Seventeenth Session, June 1933.

Matthaei, C.E., Some Effects of the Agricultural Depression on Agricultural Labour, In. Lab. Rev., April 1931, pp. 455-64.

Great Britain, Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, 1920-32, Minutes of Evidence.

Reichgesetzblatt, Teil 1, September 23, 1933, p. 656.


1. One Province of Australia limits coverage to employees of the Commonwealth.

2. Australia; Estonia; Italy; Poland; Bulgaria; France; Mexico; (Former Prussian territory); Canada (4 provinces); Great Britain; Netherlands; Portugal; Guatemala; New Zealand; Sweden; Denmark; Irish Free State

3. Australia (one province); Greenland; Palestine; Ireland; Panama; Canada (4 provinces); India; Venezuela; Columbia; Lithuania; Greece; Nicaragua

4. Argentina; Costa Rica; Norway; Salvador; Austria; Czechoslovakia; Paraguay; Yugoslavia; Bolivia; (Former Austria); Peru; South Africa; Brazil; Equador Territory; Romania; Uruguay

5. Belgium; Germany; Luxemburg; Chile; Hungary; Spain

6. Austria; Finland; Poland (former Austrian & Russian Territory); Czechoslovakia; Latvia; Russian; (Former Hungarian Territory)

7. Bulgaria; Guatemala; Canada (4 provinces); Mexico; Denmark; Netherlands; Esthonia; Portugal; France

8. Limitation of coverage in foreign compulsory workmen's compensation laws, to manuals or with income limit, general or restricted to non-manuals:
Limitation to Manuals General income limits for employed persons Income limits for overseers and non-manuals:
Finland; Paraguay Argentina; Australia (6 provinces); Peru; South Africa; Sweden Australia (one province); Italy; Belgium; Luxemburg; Cuba; New Zealand; Great Britain; Spain; Irish Free State

9. Australia; Chile; Great Britain; Netherlands; Portugal; Austria; Czechoslovakia; Greenland; New Foundland; South Africa; Belgium; Denmark; Iceland; New Zealand; Spain; Bulgaria; France; Irish Free State; Norway; Sweden; Canada; Germany; Italy; Poland; Uruguay

10. Greece; Luxemburg; Russia; Hungary; Romania; Yugoslavia

11. Australia; Czechoslovakia; Irish Free State; Russia; Austria; Denmark; Italy; Sweden; Belgium; France; Netherlands; Bulgaria; Germany; Poland; Chile; Great Britain; Portugal

12. Austria; Denmark; Irish Free State; Portugal; Bulgaria; France; Yugoslavia; Russia; Chile; Germany; Netherlands; Czechoslovakia; Great Britain; Norway

13. Esthonia; Hungary; Latvia; Romania; Japan; Greece; Lithuania

14. Bulgaria; Luxemburg; Irish Free State; Czechoslovakia; Netherlands; Germany; Norway; Great Britain; Russia

15. Austria; Great Britain; Bulgaria; Irish Free State; Germany; Luxemburg

16. Limitations of coverage in compulsory old-age, invalidity, and sickness insurance was to various groups of persons under labor contract:
Limitations to employed persons with fixed income limits Limitations to manuals or employed manuals Income limits for

Austria S.; Czechoslovakia O. A. I; Netherlands O. A. I.; Norway S.; Russia S.; Spain O. A. Austria O. A. I; Germany O. A. I.; Great Britain O. A. I.; .Irish Free State I.; Italy O. A. I. S.; Poland O. A. I. S.; Spain O. A. Bulgaria O. A. I; Germany O. A. I. S.; Great Britain O. A. I.S.; Irish Free State I. S.; Italy O. A. I.; Luxemburg S.

17. Limitation of coverage in foreign non-contributory old-age pension:
Citizens and need Citizenship, need and 5 to 25 years residence in country Need
New Foundland; Norway; Uruguay* Australia; Canada; Denmark; Great Britain; Irish Free State; New Zealand; South Africa Greenland
* In Uruguay the employers contribute

18. International Labour Office, Unemployment Insurance and Various Forms, Relief for the Unemployed, (Agenda) International Labour Conference, 17th Session, Geneva, 1933, p. 38.

19. Foreign countries with voluntary unemployment insurance system: Belgium; Denmark; France; Norway; Switzerland; Czechoslovakia; Finland; Netherlands; Spain

20. Estimate of number of agricultural workers insured in voluntary unemployment insurance systems:
Country Date Industry Number of insured workers
Belgium 1930 Food products & agriculture 10,000
Czechoslovakia 1930 Agriculture & Forestry 128,000
France 1928 Agriculture 300
Denmark 1933 Agriculture 12,000
Netherlands 1933 Agriculture 34,000
Totals     174,300

21. C.E. Matthaei, Some Effects of the Agricultural Depression on Agricultural Labour. International Labor Review, April 1931, pp. 455-64.

22. International Labour Office, op.cit. pp. 28-34.

23. Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, Minutes of Evidence. 1920-32. P. 645-648.

24. Ibid pp. 645-660.

25. Domestic servants are excluded in sickness insurance.

26. In sickness insurance only those with remuneration above a prescribed amount.

27. Not included in sickness insurance.

28. Chile, Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden.

29. Austria, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland.

30. Royal Commission op. Cit. P. 647.

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