Home-based workers: neglected by policy-makers and labour organisers?

Homeworkers are a flexible and cheap labour force and almost 80 percent of them are female. They are ‘invisible’ in the regular labour market and their interests and priorities are not at the forefront of political or labour organisations. It is difficult for them to demand higher wages, job security or improved working conditions. In 1996 pressure from home-based workers led the International Labour Organisation to draft a convention requiring countries to adopt policies for equal treatment between home-based work and other wage earners. However, only countries – Finland and Ireland - have ratified it.

An article from the University of Leeds and the Mapping Home-based Work project examines the challenges of building support and drawing up policies to benefit this long-overlooked section of the global workforce. It shows that key characteristics of subcontracted homeworkers include payment by individual pieces of work produced, lack of control over deadlines, designs, products and raw materials and the inability to develop an independent and self-sustaining business. Earnings from home-based work are underestimated and the number of home-based workers is hard to calculate because most have multiple jobs.

A common assumption is that by using the latest technology in production processes and by having international trade, there will be a growth in production (i.e. industrialisation) and this would end home-based work. However, globalisation encourages deregulation, contracting out services and multiplication, and breaking up of international supply chains it encourages. This is leading contractors of major international trading companies to subcontract work further to home-based workers.

A global review of home-based work shows that:

Lessons from the Mapping Home-based Work project are that:

A better understanding of the nature and extent of spread of home-based work is needed. The subcontracting or marketing chains within which home-based workers are involved need to be traced. This will help in determining better programme strategies and policies.

‘Organising home-based workers in the global economy: an action-research approach’ Development in Practice, Volume 14, Numbers 1 & 2, February 2004, pp136-148, by Ruth Pearson Full document.

Funded by: Department for International Development, UK

id21 Research Highlight: 13 April 2005

Further Information:
Ruth Pearson
Institute for Politics and International Studies
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

Tel: 44 (0) 113 343 4871
Fax: 44 (0) 113 343 4400
Contact the contributor: r.pearson@leeds.ac.uk

Institute for Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, UK

Jane Tate
Mapping Home-based Work Project
HomeWorkers Worldwide
Office 20, 30-38 Dock Street
LS10 1JF

Tel: 44 (0)113 217 4037
Fax: 44 (0)113 217 4021
Contact the contributor: mapping@homeworkersww.org.uk

HomeWorkers Project Worldwide

Other related links:
National Group on Homeworking (UK)

Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)

'Globalisation and employment: working for the poor?'

International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Women in the Informal Economy from WIEGO

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