Hesperian Health Guides
Find support with other homeworkers
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Doing factory work at home can be very isolating, and competition for work can be intense. Bosses encourage this competition, because it keeps costs low.
Invite other homeworkers in your community to talk about common problems, learn about each other’s successes and failures, and ﬁnd ways of working together for better conditions. Some homeworkers share space, buy supplies in bulk so they are cheaper, and share childcare responsibilities. Working as a group also lets you take bigger orders, bargain for better pay, or even become your own boss.
Our homeworkers’ group
When I started sewing at home I didn’t know how many women worked at home in my community. So I went around and spoke to most of the women who did factory work at home in my neighborhood. At first they didn’t want to talk, but it was easy to share with someone who knew the work. Soon we would meet regularly to talk about our children and home life, as well as work.
After a chemical cleaner caught ﬁre in the home of one of the women, we talked about how to prevent ﬁres and what to do when fires happen. One woman explained that she had taught her children how to escape in case of ﬁre. I learned a lot and felt much happier after the meetings.
Five of us decided to form a workshop together, and we work in my house. One of us takes care of the children while the rest sew. We share the proﬁts equally, so we all get paid for our work sewing or caring for the children. When there is a lot of work, some of us stay up all night sewing together. The work is still very hard, but we now have some support.
Now that my husband has a large truck, we are going to see if we can get larger orders directly from the factory owner, instead of the middleman. If we do, we can earn more money and be able to negotiate directly with the owner about pay, supplies, and tools, such as scissors. My hope is to organize more homeworkers in our community, so we can support each other and improve our conditions.
Homeworkers deserve recognition as workers
When homeworkers are recognized as workers, they can be covered by local and national laws and have access to social protection programs such as health insurance, maternity protection, and disability, injury, and unemployment compensation.
Unions help homeworkers win rights
In the 1980s, many Australian garment companies started to hire homeworkers instead of factory workers. The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, which protected the rights of garment workers, realized that even though the homeworkers did the same jobs as factory workers, they often were paid less. They were also not covered by labor laws, which meant that the employers got away with not fixing bad working conditions. So the union tried to recruit and organize homeworkers. But many were too scared to make a complaint against their bosses. They did not want to lose their jobs. They thought nobody would believe them or support them because they did not have anything in writing and were immigrants who did not speak English.
The union worked with homeworkers and community partners to initiate the FairWear campaign. This national and international campaign brought together many community organizations to support home-based workers’ rights. Women’s groups, churches, and community organizations joined with the union in calling for companies to respect homeworkers’ rights. They invited people from the radio and newspapers to the events and demonstrations they held outside the companies’ stores. The media attention showed consumers which companies were making their clothing but not paying fair wages. With the support of consumers, the union forced the companies to sign an agreement to make sure homeworkers were protected by labor laws and received fair wages. Garment homeworkers are now protected by the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.