29 August, 2014Some 40 women from IndustriALL affiliates from all over India met in Kolkata on 26 and 27 August to exchange experiences about what they have done so far and to think about what they want to do in the future. About 10 men leaders of the unions also took part in the workshop. It was held in the framework of the Asia Pacific union building project.
One of the complaints heard most often from women workers is about violations of their maternity rights. Maternity rights and maternity protection are part and parcel of the decent work agenda. Nevertheless these rights are not always enforced. Moreover in general contract workers have no maternity leave. The employers say, 'no work, no pay.' In 2004 Sangita was a contract worker at L'Oréal in Pune. She had an abortion in order not to lose her right to be a permanent worker. Yazaki in Pune does not abide by the law on crèche either. Sarika works at Yazaki and is now fighting for the rights of the contract workers, together with the SEM union.
SEM demanded 6 months maternity leave in the recent negotiations at L'Oréal. The men also agreed to support this demand. In the end they achieved 4 months, an increase of one month. It was the first time a union achieved this. Now SEM has decided to campaign for six months' maternity benefit until the end of 2014.
Three months ago there was a case of sexual harassment against a contract worker. The union raised the issue in the sexual harassment committee, and the line manager in question was suspended.
In the meantime the contract workers are raising similar demands with their contractors. Now they are more aware, and they are demanding the minimum wage.
In addition to their concerns about maternity leave and sexual harassment the women complained of long working hours and poor wages, especially in the informal economy as well as wage inequality between women and men. Another problem is the level of illiteracy. One point was mentioned again and again, and that was the lack of toilets and rest rooms and clean water. These need to be taken up by the unions in connection with other health and safety issues. Some unions are doing awareness training and peer education on HIV/AIDS.
Violence against women is still rampant. Some unions have created self-help groups to assist the women in standing up to male domination. The women complained about the lack of support and respect for women. Some are doing self-defense training for women.
There was a brief debate on night work for women, but not all the women were sure about their position.
It was agreed that a structure needs to be created, otherwise the work will be left up to the will and pleasure of the men. In addition every affiliate should send a woman to the IndustriALL India committee.
The meeting was called national unity meeting. Indeed the women did their part and made their contribution to unity among IndustriALL affiliates in India.