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Find support with other homeworkers

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 20: Doing factory work at home > Find support with other homeworkers

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.

2 women speaking while holding children outside a house where other women are sewing.
Now that the boss has been forced to recognize our association, we can make work safer for all of us and our families.
Why don’t we invite workers from other neighborhoods to join our association?
The rights of homeworkers Wgthas black-ilo.png

The ILO Home Work Convention (No. 177) says homeworkers should be protected by the same national laws on health, safety, and labor rights that protect factory workers. Homeworkers should be:

  • allowed to form or join organizations of their own choosing.
  • protected in the field of occupational safety and health.
  • protected against child labor.
  • protected against discrimination.
  • provided access to training.
  • offered maternity protection.
  • offered social security protection.
The roles of the UN, ILO, and other international organizations that promote workers’ rights are explained in Appendix A.
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.

a large crowd of men and women holding signs and marching behind a banner.
Rights for All Homeworkers