Three Case Studies of Women Workers
The following are three different case studies regarding Women Workers.
I. Deciduous Fruit Workers, South Africa
This study looks at the introduction of national labour legislation and private sector codes of conduct and their impact on women working in the fruit industry in South Africa. At the end of apartheid in 1994, there were an estimated 102,000 permanent workers on South African fruit farms (of whom 26 per cent were women). While these numbers have increased, there has also been a restructuring of the workforce and of employment relations as a result of liberalisation, which disbanded the government-regulated marketing channel for fruit exports and opened fruit growers up to the direct forces of global competition and international quality and labour standards.
Enactment of national legislation, backed by international codes of conduct imposed by UK supermarkets, means that women’s labour rights are being addressed for the first time and that they are now entitled to contracts in their own right. However, the combination of government legislation and increased global competition has prompted many growers to shed on-farm labour – mainly women – who then work as casual labourers without access to a contract.
Thus, although labour protection has shifted in a more equitable direction , further progress is needed if it is to be consolidated for all women workers, including the most vulnerable.
II. Women Garment Workers, Bangladesh
The export industry for ready-made garments (RMG) has been a major result of liberalisation in Bangladesh. The industry employed 1.5 million workers in 2003, the majority of whom were women, and is a prime example of female-led export-led industrialisation. This was promoted by the introduction of international quotas and export-oriented national policies, which supported the transfer of production and marketing expertise from Korea, and by the drive of local entrepreneurs.
Women workers in export industries, and especially in Export Processing Zones (EPZs), receive more benefits, higher wages and better working conditions than those in domestic industries. Exports have provided much-needed employment for women in the poorer section of the rural population and raised their visible significance as economic contributors to their families.
However any improvements that have taken place in labour standards have reflected pressure from international buyers. This does not necessarily reflect greater self-enlightenment on their part, but is rather a result of international pressure, particularly from the trade union movement in the buyers’ own countries, backed by consumer groups and student activists. But these groups are only interested in the export sector of the economy and improvements are largely confined to those factories with which buyers deal direct. Such top-down improvements are the product of voluntary agreements between buyers and their suppliers. They do not substitute for building workers’ awareness and their capacity to represent their own interests with employers and the government.
Although there were queries about the long-term sustainability of the industry, partly as a result of the phasing out of the multifibre arrangement (MFA) in 2005, predictions so far have not been realised and exports continue to increase.
(See Unit 2 Concepts for a longer version of this case study)
III. Women Call Centre Workers, India
This study looks at the relocation of jobs in the information technology-enabled service (ITES) industries, such as call centres, from high wage to low wage countries. India has been a major recipient of such work and is expected to have a US$57 billion annual export industry in information services by 2008 employing four million people, of whom at least 40 percent will be women.
Call centres already employ more than 160,000 people, of whom between 45 and 70 per cent are women. Although these jobs are located in the formal sector, they display many characteristics typical of informal employment. These include lack of security. Many workers lack formal contracts and there is no trade union organising in the industry.
As with garment workers, there are queries about the long-term sustainability of the jobs created, in part because of continued rapid technological change which could result in call centres being bypassed altogether as customers relate directly to the computer of the HQ company.
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