Programs, Projects and Activities

PROGRAMS, PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES

Aside from organizing and strengthening homeworkers’ networks at the national and regional level, HomeNet Southeast Asia has been preoccupied with the following areas of work: planning and coordinating, mapping and other forms of research, leadership training, social protection, and policy advocacy. In these endeavors it has been supported by a number of international organizations, including CIDA-SEAGEP, UNIFEM, Ford Foundation, and the Dutch trade union FNV.

Planning and Coordinating

To provide an opportunity for Homenet Southeast Asia members to review and plan their activities at the national and regional levels, the Southeast Asia workshop was organized during September 20-21,2000 ,in Bangkok under the auspices of CIDA-SEAGEP. Forty-eight participants and observers put their heads together in charting the path for the national and regional networks in the first years of the new millennium.

To oversee the implementation of the regional and national plans, regional and national coordinators have been designated and are being supported by UNIFEM and FNV.

In July 2003, members of the Asian Regional Coordinating Committee (ARCC) created under the UNIFEM-FNV Project entitled “Strengthening the Network of Homebased Workers in Asia” met at the UNIFEM Regional Office in Bangkok, Thailand, 28-29 July to review and assess the progress made covering the period September 2002 to June 2003, as well as to identify requirements for future actions. (See related story on the ARCC meeting in the section on SUBREGIONAL AND REGIONAL MEETINGS).

Mapping and Other Forms of Research

Where are the homeworkers? What work do they do? For whom and with whom do they work? What resources do they have? What are their working and living conditions. their problems and needs? These are some of the questions that could be answered through mapping as a research methodology.

Homenet Southeast Asia conducted a mapping workshop on March 15-16 ,2001 with the support of UNIFEM and ILO /EASMAT in Bangkok . There were about fifteen participants at the workshop ,including the delegates from Indonesia ,Thailand and Philippines. The workshop enabled the participants to understand the meaning of home-based work, the forms it takes, and the methods of data collection and analysis. involved in mapping..

Soon after the workshop, HomeNet Thailand, with the support of HomeNet International, launched its mapping exercise in May 2001,after the finalization of the survey form for all their members.The training of the homeworker leaders to collect the information was held in four regions and they completed the data collection at the end of July 2001. (For a summary of this, see HomeNet Thailand website).

HomeNet Indonesia focused its UNIFEM-supported mapping exercise on women homeworkers in the putting out system in Surabaya and Bali. The project, envisioned to form part of its membership expansion efforts in the target research areas, commenced with a planning meeting in September 2001 and ended March 2002 with the finalization of the report. (This report appears in summary form in the HomeNet Indonesia website).

In the Philippines, PATAMABA (with UNIFEM support) commenced their mapping efforts in November 2001, targeting 500 of its homeworker members in four areas: Bulacan, Rizal, Iloilo, and the National Capital Region. In addition to a survey, PATAMABA area leaders conducted focus group discussions with their members and documented best practices. An important component of the mapping project is the built-in training for PATAMABA leaders and staff in computer-based data encoding, processing, and analysis, a step forward in their own empowerment in the area of research. (For a summary of the mapping report, please see the PATAMABA website).

All three HomeNets came together in a subregional workshop in Crown Peak Hotel, Subic, Zambales, Philippines on 19-20 October 2002 to present and learn from the results of all their mapping efforts. (See related article on the subregional workshop on sharing mapping results in section on SUBREGIONAL AND REGIONAL MEETINGS).

The HomeNets in the region have also been involved in a number of other multi-country researches. PATAMABA and HomeNet Indonesia conducted studies on the impact of the Asian financial crisis on selected homeworkers in the garments, food and other affected industries with the support of the World Bank. HomeNet Thailand did a similar project with ILO support, and recently came out with a book on the research. All three national HomeNets were also involved in a recent UNICEF study on subcontracted women and children in various manufacturing industries. In 2002, HomeNet Southeast Asia (Thailand and the Philippines) embarked on a research on social protection for informal workers in the garments industry with the support of the ILO. (See subsequent section on social protection).

Leadership Training

HomeNet Southeast Asia, with support from CIDA-SEAGEP, initiated its Leadership
Training Program in 2001 to strengthen the capacity of homeworker leaders in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. The Program was designed together by a planning committee in which the three countries were represented The committee agreed on the component modules of the Program, and it was implemented in the three countries from October 2000 to April 2001 .

Each national HomeNet had its own customized modules for the Leadership Training Program, covering the following areas: (1) Economic Empowerment ( business management, product development, marketing , and finance), (2) Social Protection (including social welfare and social insurance), ( 3) Policy Advocacy , and (4) Organizing and Networking.

Social Protection

HomeNet SEA led a CIDA-SEAGEP-supported project on the documentation of social protection schemes in Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.. The project aimed to collect information on existing programs of social welfare, social insurance, and social assistance among workers in the informal economy in the three countries. The project has helped the three national HomeNets to review and compare the existing social protection schemes and enabled them to draw lessons and analyze the gaps in the schemes. The project was completed in book form by the three researcher-writers: Doanoi Srikajorn ( Thailand), Hesti Wijaya (Indonesia) and Lucita Lazo ( Philippines) who also served as the editor.

HomeNet Thailand, in 2001, initiated a pilot social protection scheme in Chiangmai. The homeworkers in the area began their health insurance scheme, with 110 members contributing their own fees.The financial support from UNIFEM for the pilot project was used for administration, as well as for the preparation and training of the leaders. Prior to setting up the scheme, a working group did a feasibility study covering eight private insurance companies and three hospitals.

In the Philippines, PATAMABA has been supporting alternative and indigenous social protection schemes – Paluwagan and Damayan. In Damayan, each member contributes a certain amount when a member dies. In Paluwagan (pooled money), each member pays a certain amount, agreed upon by all the members. The pooled money is then taken alternately by the members, who draw lots to determine the first beneficiary.

In the year 2002, it was the Philippines’ turn to initiate a pilot social protection scheme with UNIFEM support. This would require actions at several levels including technical studies to outline different options for providing social protection to homebased workers; policy support to address the overall policy framework that would affect homebased workers ability to sustain such schemes; and brokering of strategic alliances between homebased workers organizations and cooperatives, government agencies and the private sector including insurance companies and business people.

In the area of research towards policy advocacy, HomeNet Thailand and PATAMABA (HomeNet Philippines) conducted a case study on the garments industry in the two countries, focusing on social protection for workers in the informal economy. The results of the case study were presented in a technical consultative workshop in April 2002 convened by the ILO-STEP, WIEGO, and the World Bank in Chamonix, France. The two Homenet SEA coordinators served as presentors and discussants in the workshop..

Policy Advocacy and Networking

HomeNet SEA sees the need for the development of national policies on homework that “promote equality of treatment between homeworkers and other wage earners” in such areas as the right to organize, protection against discrimination, remuneration, occupational safety and health, social security protection, and training. This is mandated by the ILO Convention on Home Work, adopted in 1996 after a coordinated campaign by homebased workers’ networks, but which up to now has been ratified by only two countries – Ireland and Finland. The adoption of this Convention is significant, because it means that ratifying countries will be obligated to convert its provisions into national laws. The Convention would oblige any ratifying member State to “adopt, implement and periodically review a national policy on home work aimed at improving the situation of homeworkers.” The challenge for HomeNet SEA is now on ratification and implementation of the Convention in order to translate the Convention into reality . The advocacy initiatives in the region are focused on developing the national policies in line with the ILO Convention.

In South East Asia, the financial and economic crisis of 1997 has led to growing informalisation since those who have lost employment in the formal sector have moved into informal employment thereby increasing the competition for paid work and scarce resources (i.e. Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia).

As women predominate in the informal sector, the development of appropriate informal sector policies is critical for women’s economic and social empowerment. The development of a strong information base complemented by research studies will serve as the back bone for advocacy and lobbying efforts at all levels for homebased workers to understand their own situation and for the government and the private sector to evolve appropriate policies and programmes. HomeNet SEA is also actively fostering links between relevant research institutions and experts in the region (such as Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing — WIEGO) in the hope of establishing a network of experts or fluid think tank which has as its focus, the researching and monitoring of the impact of global, regional and national economic trends on homebased workers and on women’s economic rights as a complement to the grassroots organizational work. HomeNet SEA Coordinator Rakawin Lee sits on the WIEGO Board, and is active in its Organizing and Representation Committee. Representatives of the three national HomeNets attended the WIEGO Annual Meeting in Ahmedabad, India, in January 2002.

FAQs about Homeworkers

FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions)ABOUT HOMEWORKERS

This section is for anyone who is interested in knowing the basics about home-based work. We are sure that after reading these quick questions and answers, you will have a better understanding of why HomeNets exist and how much there is to do for the home-based workforce particularly in developing countries.

1. What is home-based work?

Homebased work or homework is done in or around the home for an income. It is not household work done for the family without payment, or domestic work such as cleaning or childcare done for an employer in their house.

Homebased work can range from labor-intensive manual or machine tasks (such as sorting, cleaning, packaging, labelling, coil winding and soldering) to the production of electronic equipment and in the service sector (activities such as filling envelopes, mailing, typing, word and data processing, invoicing, editing, and translating) to garment and textile industries, the leather industry, artificial flower making, handicraft, pottery and weaving

2. What are the different types of home-based worker?

Basically, there are two principal types: the piece-rate worker who works for an employer or intermediary and the own-account worker who does her or his own marketing.

The piece-rate worker. She gets her raw materials from a trader, contractor, employer, or firm, makes them into finished goods at home, and delivers them to the same person. Rarely does she have any direct contact with the marketplace for the goods she makes. However, often the raw materials she receives are not sufficient, or certain necessary components are not provided, so she has to buy these items herself. While some employers or contractors loan equipment to their piece-rate workers, most have to provide their own tools. As such, the cost of equipment, maintenance, and infrastructure, such as electricity, can cut deeply into the workers’ earnings.

Some workers are engaged by international chains of production (garments, footwear, electronics, plastic footballs) while others work for national or local markets (garments, bidi, agarbatti, textiles). Certain forms of craft-work, while apparently traditional, are now done on a subcontracted basis (weaving, basket work). This trend is also growing in non manufacturing areas such as agri processing (cashew nut, cotton, horticulture, floriculture and animal husbandry).

The own-account worker. She is generally in direct contact with the market, buying her own raw material and selling her own finished goods. However, in terms of earnings and working conditions, she is not much better off than her piece-rated sisters. Own-account workers face competition from larger, more powerful businesses and rarely have access to credit, except at exorbitant rates of interest. Thus, they have to buy raw materials in small quantities, making them more expensive, and are rarely able to sell their goods themselves directly in the markets. As a result, they too are dependent on agents, contractors, and other middlemen.

Although there is a theoretical difference between a piece-rated worker, who is dependent on a specific employer/contractor, and an own account worker who is supposedly independent, in practice this distinction is blurred. For example, weavers in Thailand are own-account workers in that they buy their own yarn and sell their cloth in the market. To do this, however, they generally have to buy their material on credit from the same merchants to whom they eventually sell their finished goods, and at prices determined by those merchants. So, although technically the producer is an own-account worker, she has no direct access to the best markets and has limited bargaining power. In terms of earning and working conditions, she is not much better off than the piece-rate worker.

3. What’s the importance of homebased work?

This is the most vital question.

Homebased work spans continents and centuries. Some of the oldest forms of work, such as weaving and spinning, were done at home. Today, some of the latest forms of work connected with computer technology and modern telecommunications are increasingly taking place in homebased work sites.

Homebased work is, in fact, a vital and growing part of economic modernization, linked to the globalization of industry and the never-ending search for cheaper sources of labour and more efficient means of production.

As governments seek to attract industrial investment, the availability of low-cost labour and labour stability is a valuable bargaining commodity. In today’s international marketplace, it is not uncommon for a single garment or electronic device to be a compilation of the efforts of workers over two or three continents, most of whom are not even aware of each other’s existence.

Quick changes in fashion and demands from retailers for immediate responses have led to the need to produce high-fashion garments rapidly, customized to specific markets. Such uncertainties in demand have resulted in a highly competitive local manufacturing industry which has to rely on subcontracting orders out to small producers rather than undertaking production in large scale factories halfway around the world.

It is well-known fact that the Japanese model of “just in time (JIT)” production (organized at the last minute) was based on the existence of thousands of small sub-contractors who were able to draw upon the skills of women working at home.

While homebased work in both developing and developed countries may be considered “informal” by most economists, in the sense that workers are outside the protection of the law and their work is often not valued appropriately, most of the products they produce are sold by large, mainstream retailers.

The same pattern that is true for clothing can also be found in the automobile industry, all types of electronics production and assembly, and many other modern industries.

In Thailand, for example, as wages in the cities have risen, Thai products have become expensive as compared to their competitors in other less developed Asian countries. Local industries are relocating to rural areas where small workshops can be set up less expensively. There is a growing need for rural families to develop new ways to earn more income. New farming technology requires cash to purchase inputs, while the growing influence of the mass media brings with it an increased demand for consumer goods.

So, homebased work in all of its diverse forms cannot be viewed as an artifact of traditional economies. Rather, such work appears to be growing in both developing rural and urban economies. Further, the income that homework produces is no longer supplementary but has become increasingly vital to families and nations alike.

The women who weave in Thailand, the handicraft makers in the Philippines, the homebased workers assembling electronic devices in Malaysia and the Indonesian women machine-stitching garments at home are all inextricably linked within the global marketplace.

 

4. Who are the homeworkers?

The majority of homeworkers are women, who take up this form of employment as a way of earning an income to support themselves and their families. Homework is seen as a way of combining the unpaid work of family care, with earning a paid income. While there are positive aspects to homebased work, such as flexible hours which allow women to carry out their homebased work around their family responsibilities, women often turn to homebased work due to lack of necessary qualifications and formal training, absence of child care support, social and cultural constraints and lack of alternatives. Families need cash income for their survival. Loss in formal employment and reduced returns from agriculture often result in men migrating to urban centres, leaving behind women and children. With home-based work being the only alternative available to the poorest communities, it is not confined only to women but also involves children, particularly girls.

In general, people who find it hard to find employment due to various reasons such as cultural or legal restrictions, discrimination and lack of qualifications wind up doing home-based work. Some men and boys are included in this category. Those with disability also often choose to work from home due to inaccessible transport systems and work places.

5. Why are homeworkers called the ‘invisible’ workforce?

Homeworkers are members of the expanding workforce of people working informally, often outside legal protection.

Homeworkers are the most invisible of all workers as most of them are women working in their own homes.

According to the ILO, homework is women’s work almost by definition, so it is not surprising that it is often wrongly confused with housework or domestic work. The invisibility of homebased workers is directly related to the traditional isolation of women within many societies that restricts their interactions with other women outside of their families or immediate communities.

Many women refer to themselves as “not employed,” or as “housewives”, even when they are spending 14–16 hours a day earning income to support their families. They carry out their tasks with minimal contact with the outside world, often having little understanding of where the work comes from or where it goes once it leaves their hands.

 

6. How has globalisation affected homebased work?

Globalisation is sweeping across the Asian region and radically altering the social and economic environment of countries as well as having a differing impact on women and men. Women’s roles in the economies of the region are strong and increasing, yet they are to be found in the most vulnerable sectors of both employment and business. The deregulation of markets, increased competition and development of new technologies that have occurred as a result of globalisation and trade liberalization have led to a significant boom in subcontracting through homebased work and casual and part-time work. Growing competition has seen retailers and suppliers use various cost cutting strategies. The informal nature of home-based work makes it possible for employers to reduce costs by taking advantage of low wages, low overheads and the flexibility of a work force with few rights and a growing need for income. Subcontracting in industries such as garments, footwear, toys, plastics and electronics is taking place on an international scale.

Thus, while employment has expanded for women, a majority of women are concentrated in non-standard forms of employment which are insecure, yield low wages, provide little or no legal and social protection and often involve poor working conditions. These workers are dispersed, isolated, lacking in skills and access to information. As a result, their bargaining power to improve their situation and to gain an increased share of the benefits of globalization is extremely limited.

The Asian financial crisis dramatised the impact of globalisation. It has led to some painful effects in Southeast Asian countries such as loss of jobs, loss of markets, falling piece rates and profit margins and increased hours of work. The growing informalisation, as more people after losing their employment in the formal sector move to informal sector, has led to more competition for paid work and scarce resources (i.e. Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia).

Introduction

In South East Asia, there are national homebased workers’ networks – HomeNets – in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They emerged as part of a major subregional project undertaken from 1988 to 1996 by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and funded by DANIDA. The project’s Chief Technical Adviser then was Lucita S. Lazo, who continues to be a moving spirit behind homeworkers’ movements not only in the region but across the globe.

HomeNet Thailand is composed of 6000 members served by NGOs active in three regional networks-the Central (Bangkok) Network , the Northern Network and the North East Network . In the Philippines, the National Network of Informal Workers (PATAMABA), has a membership 14,138 as of end of 2003 in its formal registry. In addition, the PATAMABA youth sector has been actively recruiting from among their ranks, and has reported a membership of at least 2,000. In Indonesia, MWPRI (or the National Network of Friends of Women Homeworkers) now has 19 collaborating NGOs. They are serving 11,000 homeworkers in six provinces. The MWPRI has been instrumental in the formation of HWPRI as an independent association of Indonesian women homeworkers.

A regional network of the South East Asian groups grew out of the ILO-DANIDA initiative and was formalised in June 1997. HomeNet Southeast Asia, based in Bangkok, enables the three countries to co-ordinate their activities particularly in the area of advocacy work at regional level. It is also exploring expansion to Indochina.

HomeNet SEA is one of the original components of HomeNet International, a global network which was set up in 1994 and which also has member groups in South Asia, East Asia and Australia, Latin America and Canada, as well as Europe. The primary objective then was to launch a co-ordinated campaign for the 1995 ILO conference where the agenda included discussion on the development of the Convention for home-based workers.

In principle, HomeNet supports home-based workers in democratic, membership-based organisations both as trade unions or other forms such as associations, co-operatives or people’s organisations. The strength of the network lies in its grassroots membership and the technical support it extends to its members. At the same time it carries the voice of the homebased workers at the national, regional and international levels, to influence legislation, policies and programmes.

The general aims of Homenet SEA are:

• To build an international network for homebased workers and their organisations as well as NGOs, cooperatives, trade unions, researchers, women’s groups, etc. including all those directly or indirectly undertaking work in this field;

• To coordinate a campaign for the improvement of homebased workers’ conditions of work at national, regional and international levels;

• To collect and disseminate information on homebased work to members of the network and other interested organizations; and

• To assist in obtaining technical assistance for, and act as a channel of the same to homebased workers.

HomeNet SEA holds subregional meetings and workshops and does advocacy work on the ILO Convention on Homework.

Currently, it aims to increase homeworker visibility and empowerment in the region through mapping and other forms of research, consolidation and expansion of networks at country and regional levels. The emphasis is on building the sustainability of the regional and national HomeNets in the aftermath of the Asian crisis which has affected their ability to be self-financing. The activities will focus on co-ordination, exchange of information, advocacy on common issues and building alliances with multi-sector stakeholders

 

Hesti Wijaya (left), HomeNet Indonesia coordinator, and homebased workers in Jakarta