The IndustriALL Global Union Asia-Pacific women’s committee met in Singapore on 9th February 2017 to take stock of progress made by affiliates and develop future strategies to intensify efforts to defend women workers’ rights.
The Asia-Pacific women’s committee deliberated on actions taken and future strategies to deal with key challenges confronted by women workers including precarious work, gender equality, occupational safety and health, maternity protection, sexual harassment, organizing young women workers and increasing womens’ participation in IndustriALL structures and leadership positions.
Michele O’Neil, co-chair of IndustriALL Global Women Committee presided over the meeting and said:
“We are witnessing intensified attacks on workers’ rights due to regressive political and economic changes around the world. Irresponsible actions of global capital, with unabated promotion of precarious work, attacks on union rights, and disregard to safety and health pose serious challenges to women workers, families and communities.
“The IndustriALL women’s committee has the important job of making sure that women industrial workers’ voices are heard”.
Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, explained that the IndustriALL action plan and implementation of related activities made significant inroads to defend the rights of women workers. She said:
“Affiliates made meaningful progress in increasing women’s participation in IndustriALL structures. At the recent global congress we gained statutory commitment to introduce 40 percent representation for women in all levels of decision-making bodies. We need to consistently and pragmatically work to increase women’s representation at local, national and global levels.”
IndustriALL affiliate the Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers' Unions (FSPMI) reported a significant increase in inclusion of women into union fold. Darmawati Natakusumah said:
“Women workers in the Indonesian industrial workforce have been increasing significantly in the recent past. Despite major challenges the FSPMI made significant inroads in bringing more manufacturing sector women workers into union fold”.
Participants underlined the importance of organizing young women workers and also highlighted the challenges in organizing youth. Nghiem Thuy Lan of Vietnam National Union of Oil & Gas Workers and Dorlina Lumban Toruan of Serikat Pekerja Nasional in Indonesia said:
“The majority of the workforce particularly in the electronics, garments and textile industry in the Asia-Pacific region are young women. This new generation of workers’ lifestyle and aspirations are different.
“Most of them are precarious workers and face numerous problems including low wages, long working hours, sexual abuse and harassment. It is essential that the union movement devises smart strategies to bring young women workers into the union fold.”
The women’s committee committed to renewing its efforts to organize young women workers.
Nazma Akter of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation in Bangladesh said:
“In many countries, including Bangladesh, the conservative value system poses a major challenge for women workers to participate in union activities at the grassroots level.
“There is a need for collective intervention to sensitize male counterparts, create a conducive environment and opportunities for women’s participation.”
Annie Adviento and Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL regional secretaries of South East Asia and South Asia respectively, reported increased women’s participation and advances made in addressing maternity health issues through various activities organized in the region. They also underlined that in some countries women’s committees have been formed and in many countries affiliates committed to increase women participation in the national councils.
Participants expressed concern that in some countries where women’s committees have been formed, there is an inadequate response from the national councils to take on board the issues raised by the women’s committee. They called for linking these national structures.
The women’s committee expressed deep concern over the crackdown on unionists in Bangladesh, who are demanding an increase in minimum wages. They expressed solidarity with the workers’ struggle in Bangladesh and demanded that the government of Bangladesh immediately release jailed unionists and workers.
Michele O’Neil and Nazma Akter were elected unanimously for the position of co-chairs of the women’s committee. Co-chairs will consolidate and take forward women’s issues into IndustriALL’s decision-making process.