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.

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-rate 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.

What is home-based work?

Home-based 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 did for an employer in their house.

Home-based work can range from labor-intensive manual or machine tasks (such as sorting, cleaning, packaging, labeling, 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.

Homenet SEA joins IAFFE Conference

In the Annual Conference of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) held in Sydney, Australia 7-9 July, Homenet Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo again presented the network’s newly published book in a panel on social protection.

The conference was attended by academics and advocates from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, East and Southeast, and South Asia.

Homenet Southeast Asia took the initiative to organize a panel on social protection to present the results of country studies in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. Shreya Bhattacharya from the Institute of Social Studies and Trust in India represented Homenet South Asia.

ILAPI Colloquium

Back in Manila, results of the Philippine study on community-based initiative featured in the new book were again presented by Dr. Ofreneo in a colloquium on “Workers Protection in the Informal Economy Through Occupational Safety and Health, Social Health Insurance Coverage and Self-Help Schemes in Social Protection” sponsored by the ILO Association of the Philippines at the ILO Conference Room 3 July 2006.

Other speakers included representatives of PhilHealth, Dept. of Labor and Employment, Occupational Safety and Health Center and ILO-SEARCO.

Homenet SEA now WIEGO member

A ten-member contingent representing Homenet Southeast Asia, Homenet Thailand, Homenet Indonesia, and Homenet Thailand crossed continents to participate in the First General Assembly of Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) held in Durban South Africa April 21-23.
The Assembly approved WIEGO’s new governance structure and Steering Committee and gave inputs to WIEGO’s five programs: organizing and representation, social protection, research and statistics, urban policies, and global markets.

WIEGO is a network of researchers, activists, and policymakers who are trying to help informal workers on a global scale.It is a network that started out as a collaboration between women activists and informal women workers in India on the one side, and researchers at Harvard University in the U.S. on the other side. It then expanded to include informal workers’ organizations across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe,North America, and elsewhere.

One important part of WIEGO’s work is to coordinate and work with the Homenet organizations in South East Asia and South Asia. WIEGO also works closely with trade unions, international organizations, universities (including many prestigious universities and research institutes throughout the world), and statistical offices. This last tie – with offices of national statistics – is particularly important because it is always necessary to point out that in most developing countries, the vast majority of workers are informal workers (and not formal sector workers), and that national and international policies must now focus on the needs of informal workers because, in so many countries, informal workers are the workforce. In many countries, it is also the fastest growing part of the workforce.

In all, 100 participants from 32 countries participated in the General Assembly; 38 of the participants were delegates from the 14 member-based organizations , including the various Homenets.. An additional 70 persons participated in the Urban Policies Colloquium called “‘World Class Cities’ and the Urban Informal Economy: Inclusive Planning for the Working Poor” co-organized by WIEGO, StreetNet International and the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal on April 24-25.

During a typical Durban dinner, WIEGO participants feted Ela Bhatt, the out-going and founding chair of WIEGO and founder of the 700,000-strong Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. Her autobiography entitled “We Are Poor But So Many” was also launched in Durban.

Homenet Southeast Asia Subregional Council members (Rosalinda Pineda Ofreneo, Kanoknart Ngamnetra, Hesti Wijaya, Lourdes Gula, Hesti Wijaya, Primar Jardeleza, and Josephine Parilla) together with other delegates (Sujin Rungsawang and Nunuk Setyaningwati, and Orapin Wimolpusit) took advantage of the opportunity to hold an informal meeting for updating and planning particularly for the subregional workshop on fair trade and marketing to be held in the Philippines in November.

They also attended the meeting called by Karin Pape of the Global Labour Institute to discuss plans for pushing for ratification of the Convention and/or national policies based on the provisions of the Convention in different countries.

38 participants to the WIEGO conference were delegates from the 14 member-based organizations including the various comments