PAKISTAN « Trade unions should play their important role to unionize home based workers » An article by Samina Fayyaz, Joint Secretary, Home based workers’ union

The women working as home-based workers are working in very difficult situations. There are hundreds of women workers engaged in industrial labor from their homes on an informal and piece-rate basis. The labor outsourced to women includes producing bangles, garments, envelopes, plastic toys, shoe making, stitching suits, embroidery, food items, etc., as well as packaging and cleaning batteries. Since years and years a long struggle for their rights. 

Women organizations and trade unions organizing and mobilizing these women and give them voice that the work which they are doing is not recognizing, so let’s mobilize and struggle to pressurize government to make laws for home based workers. 

Sindh Provincial government to enact a law enabling their access to social security benefits. This is a step is in the right direction but the only way to ensure that the law is implemented effectively. To implement this law trade unions and home based women worker’s union should play their effective role, meetings with labor ministry, secretary labor, writing letters to implement this law on home based workers, and home based workers should aware about their rights. 

We received a lot of complaints by home based workers are constantly working on different work, their health condition is very bad, suffering in different diseases. Those who cut dates for supari packets or separate plastic toys using industrial scissors complain of chronic pain in their hands. Sitting in strained positions causes persistent back and neck aches. Exposure to chemicals used in 

multiple processes is harmful. As the work requires intense focus, women complain of vision problems. Many report reproductive ailments and hepatitis. 

Home based workers are getting very low wages. The economic rewards are few and earn far below the minimum wage for an unskilled worker. Take bangles, for example. There are roughly 60 processes involved in their manufacture. About 20 of these are performed by women at home. These include evening out the open mouth of a bangle and closing it over a flame. The rates for the latter are Rs6 for a bunch that is sold for Rs365. Even the most efficient workers, maintaining a crouched position with the fan off to keep the flame still, will simply reduce the time for one bunch from 20 minutes to 12. Through perseverance, they may increase their daily rate by Rs50, but it is still not enough to be a living wage. 

Home based worker’s link up their struggle with trade union federations 

Although women are free to take or refuse work, and have the convenience of getting work delivered to their homes, they exercise limited agency. Work from home reduces their mobility and exposure to their peers, the market and government offices. Most women are unable to name the factory or investor they are working for. Middlemen who deliver materials can thus exploit their isolation and coerce them into accepting poor wages. Even when increments are won, they are minimal. Moreover, since there is no formal contract and industrial conditions remain volatile, there is never any guarantee of work. 

Their children suffer as well, as they lose access to space in their houses, are drawn in to assist their elders, and are exposed to the same health and safety risks. The fact that home-based workers are predominantly women, unable to unionize effectively, poorly paid, and working in precarious and informal jobs — makes such labor a form of systemic gender discrimination. It contributes to women’s economic marginalization. Women home-based workers who also bear household responsibilities struggle to make time for union meetings. 

Unions are neglecting home based workers, which is increasing day by day because of the high inflation. NGO’s are having funds to contact them. But they are unable to mobilize them on one platform. This ensures the issue gets visibility, and eventually pushes lawmakers to write a policy and then enact a law. But the hard work of making rights real requires organizing and political mobilization. Without that, the law itself is nothing but a set of aspirations. 

There is a need to aware and mobilize these home based workers to visit relevant departments with trade unions for the implementation of minimum wage, Social security cards, EOBI and other benefits providing in labor laws. It is time to challenge the long wait for laws and then the rules to implement them. Home based workers should connect their struggle with trade union federations, so it will be easy to struggle and raise their voice to implement labor laws. NGO’s are not being able to implement labor laws on home based workers. 