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Strong growth in ICT, electrical and electronics is opportunity to organize

13 October, 2021The steering committee for the ICT, electrical and electronics (ICT EE) sector met on 8 October to share experiences and develop an activities plan for 2022. More than 40 per cent of the 46 delegates were women.

The meeting was opened by sector co-chair Masahi Jimbo. IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Atle Høie reported on the recent IndustriALL Congress, and spoke about how IndustriALL’s four strategic goals related to ICT EE.

“Five years have passed since the second world Congress, but looking around the world, there are still many issues unsolved, such as gender equality and precarious workers with low wages. This sector needs to deepen solidarity among unions to implement the new action plan,” said Jimbo.

Atle Høie said:

“We need to confront global capital. We need to ensure that workers get their fair share of profits. Even during Covid, the big companies – including ICT companies - got richer.”

“This sector has a crucial role to play in a Just Transition to a greener economy. We need to make employers understand that workers need a pathway to green jobs.”

Assistant general secretary Kan Matsuzaki spoke about trends and developments in the sector, which is performing well, with many of the top companies among the best performing companies in the global economy.

Covid-19 has increased reliance on ICT and sped up digitalization. Major companies are making huge investments and huge profits. Demand for semiconductors is high, with pandemic-driven working from home boosting demand for telecommunications equipment and home appliances. There is also strong growth in vehicle components powered by memory chips.

In developing countries, the number of workers in electronics manufacturing service (EMS) companies is growing rapidly as brands outsource manufacturing processes. The top ten EMS companies employ about 1.5 million workers. However, there is very low union density in the sector, particularly in the largest companies.

“Our challenge remains what it has always been”, said Matsuzaki.

“To organize this sector until we have the critical mass we need to influence the balance of power between workers and these powerful corporations.”

There is a struggle for dominance between Western-headquartered tech giants – such as Alphabet, Amazon and Apple - who design products and build software, and the mostly Asian companies like Huawei who build the infrastructure. Ninety per cent of manufacturing takes place in Asia, where assembly jobs typically pay between $200 and $500 per month. Recently, there has been significant expansion into Latin America, and particularly Mexico.

A positive development over the past few years is that many more countries, particularly those in the sector’s manufacturing supply chain, have ratified core ILO Conventions.

Anne-Marie Chopinet and Jan Brauburger of IndustriAll Europe gave a European perspective. Supply chain disruptions and component shortages have affected production and jobs in Europe, leading to a call to reindustrialize, and particularly to invest in semiconductor manufacture. IndustriAll has developed an action plan demanding a holistic industrial strategy.

IndustriALL gender coordinator Armelle Séby and academic Dr Jane Pillinger presented research carried out into the experience of women workers in the sector.

Women make up on average 50 per cent of the workforce, though these jobs are unevenly distributed around the world. Women make up the majority of the workforce in countries manufacturing basic components, and tend to perform low-paid, precarious, assembly-line and quality control jobs. There is a high level of gender-based job segregation, with few women in highly skilled, well-paying jobs.

Matsuzaki introduced a proposed plan for sector activities for 2022. Major focuses will be:

  • To provide education and training on gender issues
  • To create a new trade union network and sub-sector network, for instance for semiconductors
  • To demand due diligence from governments and multinational companies throughout the supply chain
  • To develop the supply chain strategy on battery and renewables
  • To continue to promote sustainable industrial policy and Just Transition.