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Women’s dire working conditions brought to light at IndustriALL ICT conference

30 June, 2015At IndustriALL Global Union’s World Conference of the ICT, Electrical and Electronics Sectors held in June 2015, women’s working conditions were highlighted among other important subjects.

It is notable that women’s working conditions in the garment industry are very similar to those in electronics. A report called Mind the Gap analyzing women working conditions in the electronics and garment industries in India was discussed at the conference. For women, work can be empowering and provide independence, but too often it is accompanied by abuse.

The report concludes that the working conditions in both supply chains do not meet the standards set by the International Labour Organization, and that workers’ wages cannot be considered living wages. Low wages keep the workers perpetually in debt and do not allow them to leave the cycle of poverty. Moreover, women garment workers suffer from malnutrition and anemia causing health problems.

The study compares working conditions and wages in two different global supply chains that cater to the European market with links to South India - the garment industry in Bangalore that produces apparel for well-known European retailers including H&M, a Swedish multinational, and Norwegian Varner Group as well as the electronics industry in Sriperumbudur (near Chennai) where electronics companies Dell and Samsung (USA and Korea respectively) are manufacturing their products. 

In general, workers migrate from rural areas looking for better jobs than they had in agriculture. Technological change has brought about employment, but the jobs are characterized by low pay and lack of social security. In their private life workers face poor housing and living conditions, lack of access to hospitals, schools, water supply and sanitation. In Chennai women workers live in the areas, which are not policed sufficiently and are therefore unsafe.

Workers in Bangalore tell of the constant high production targets they are subject to. They have to work more than the legal working hours, they are harassed and intimidated by their supervisors, and are constantly threatened with termination of their contracts. They say that without overtime they are unable to make ends meet, but still overtime is a constraint because it upsets their personal lives and keeps them from looking after the children, cooking, washing and buying food.

Workers are not allowed sufficient toilet breaks. If they use the toilets more than three to five times over an eight-hour period, they are abused and humiliated by their supervisors. They can take just five minutes to go to the toilet each time and must rush back. In order to meet the targets, the workers drink less water in order to avoid having to go to the toilet. In general these workers are women, and their supervisors are men.

At Dell in India most of the workers are young unmarried women. Wages are low. They do voluntary overtime in order to make enough money to meet the families’ expenses. The women send more than half their salaries home to support their families in the villages, so they cannot afford anything for themselves, not even nutritious food. Dell workers do not expect any promotion. The majority only expects to work until they get married, because they go back to their villages for their arranged marriages.

While Nokia was still operating in India, it had a trade union and the working conditions were significantly better. That is why unionization is crucial for improving living and working conditions. Only with trade unions, will it be possible to overcome the abuse that is prevalent in factories the world over producing the goods that we consume every day.