Technological developments are changing industrial relations with effect over the nature of work and forms of employment across the globe. With jobs in the informal economy increasing in number, more and more workers are being exposed to situations where the right to decent working conditions are being ignored.
A transformation is needed. One that recognizes that all workers are workers, whether formal or informal, and therefore should be entitled to rights at work that guarantee decent living standards.
For International Workers' Day, FES offices in Asia, with the support of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia, teamed up with members of the FES trade unions and labour networks, as well as other relevant partners across Asia to share stories of workers in the informal economy representing different sectors across Asia. We asked them what is the one thing they want to change about their job to improve their lives.
These are their stories and struggles. Read them and find out why this May 1, we’ve chosen to call for #WorkersRights4All.
My name is Malee and I am a domestic worker in Thailand. I am also the president of the Network of Domestic Workers in Thailand (NDWT). I want access to social security and protection like other workers. In Thailand, domestic workers do not yet have access to the benefits of social security (section 33) that covers maternity leave. Knowing that I would be able to take care of my children would make me a better carer to my patrons.
I am a landless agricultural workers in Andhra Pradesh, India. I earn less than 3 US dollars per day through the National employment Guarantee Scheme called Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The scheme provides for 100 days of guaranteed employment in rural areas. I would like to own my own land and become a farmer. Around 2 acres of land with a sufficient water supply will do. With a farm of my own, I would be financially more stable, would produce food for my family and would not have to migrate to city to find work. My family would not have to go to sleep with empty stomachs, as is the situation most days. I could work on my field, employ workers—whom I would pay better wages than what I currently receive. With my land as an asset, I could also have access to bank loans and financing in case of health emergencies and to also improve my farm. I have two daughters who could get married and live a better life.
My name is Manisha. I am a carpet factory worker from Nepal. I have worked in a carpet factory in Nepal for five years. Every day, I work from 05:00h to 19:00h. I think that the work load is too big not just for me but also for everyone else in this sector. I would like to see a reduction in the workload and working times, so that it doesn’t just always overwhelm me. If this were to happen, it would mean that I would actually be able to enjoy work and take pride in what I do, rather than just work like a machine under tight deadlines.
My name is Allan and I am a food app delivery driver in the Philippines. The one thing I would change is to have medical and accident Insurance.
My job involves driving around the city and every day I face a high risk of getting into an accident on my journey to deliver food from one point to another. Having insurance would be a big help and go a long way to making me and my family feel secure while I am out doing this delivery job.
My name is Gansukh from Mongolia and I am an informal taxi driver. There is no legal framework for informal taxi drivers to guarantee at least a minimum of security. If a customer doesn’t pay the fare or if I’m attacked by a customer, the police won’t help me. They say that it was my decision to drive an informal taxi thus they are not obliged to offer me protection. During the 1990s for a small fee informal taxi drivers could acquire a license from the city government. By doing so their business was legalized and they were profiting from many benefits, among them protection by the police.
My name is Mercy and I work in construction as a safety officer in the Philippines. I am the leader and member of the Association of Women Workers in the Construction Industry and National Union of Building and Construction Workers. I want to change the way construction workers are hired here in the Philippines. At the end of the contract, which is every five months, it is especially difficult for me to be find opportunities and regular work. Ending this unfair contractors’ system, with the help and support of my organization's continued advocacy and campaign efforts, will change the way women (like me) are treated in the construction industry.
My name is Chalerm and I am a motorcycle driver in Thailand. I believe that workers from the informal sector should have access to formal loan sources, where the interest rates are much lower, transparent, and fairer than that of the informal loan sources. Workers should also have access to the same social insurance schemes as workers from the formal sector. This would mean that informal sector workers will have less loan repayment interest and see more benefits from social security. We would then be able to use the money we are able to save to buy better much needed equipment for the jobs that we do.
The first thing I would like to change is to include a break in the 8 hour workday—there should be at least one break in the middle. Such a long working day really affects the health of the worker. I believe that if the workers are healthy, we can perform better and be more productive at work. The salary for an 8-hour working day is not enough. At the end of the month, I barely have any savings. I wish the salary was enough so that I would never have to ask for money from family members or take a loan from someone else. We should be able to work in an environment free of harassment towards working women. If we are given access to reasonable wages and social security is provided—according to the labour laws—then I will be able to improve my standard of living and provide a better future not just for me but for my entire family as well.
I work on short term contracts which sometimes range from 1 to 5 days or more. There are many things that I would like to change about my job, but first and foremost I would like to change the field to something that is more stable and pays higher wages. To do this, I have taken capacity development and also certified skills training provided by trade unions and the government of India. This has been helpful in improving my wages, however, it is still not on the same level what the men in my field earn. The work done by female construction workers is by and large unskilled labour which leaves no room to improve their financial condition. Having better access to skill development opportunities would significantly improve the financial condition of my family, which in turn would improve my status both within my family and at the community level. This will also allow me to provide my children a better education.
I am a brick kiln worker turned activist. I have worked as a brick kiln worker my entire life. Since hearing about the Labour Qaoumi Movement (LQM) in 2013, I have participated in numerous events aimed at ensuring fairer wages, access to basic hygiene, and medical facilities for female brick kiln workers. The one thing I want to change in my work is to have access to basic facilities at work. The women workers including me have suffered a lot of issues in the brick kilns due to no toilets available for women. If I could change my working conditions and raise my voice, so many women like me can also do the same. The years-long struggle of mine should serve as an example for the other working women just like me. I am not educated nor have I had any training in leadership. However, I am the first female member of the district vigilance committee Faisalabad. If there are any complaints regarding the exploitation of the workers or if they are not provided with social security and basic facilities, I raise up their issues to the authorities immediately.
My name is Mussamat and I work as a beautician in Bangladesh. In 2010 there was an incident near my house. A domestic worker in a beauty parlour was killed. After this incident, another happened, where a beautician was raped and killed. Since we, the beauticians, do not have a union, these matters never come out to the public. Because we live and work in the same place and we face a lot of abuse from the owners—mostly the male owners. We are constantly under pressure. We want to form a union through which our voices can be heard.
My name is Pa Pa Win. I am from Myanmar and I am a dyer in the textile sector.
I currently earn 4800 kyat per day [3 US dollars] which is not enough to cover my living expenses. I wish my wage would rise at least to 5600 kyat [4 US dollars].
My name is Sabirman. I have worked in a carpet factory in Nepal for more than five years and I am currently serving as the President of the Central Committee, Nepal Carpet Workers Association affiliated to Nepal Trade Union Congress. Many changes have taken place during the last couple of years in Nepal which certainly have improved the conditions of the workers. Both trade unions and the government should be credited for this good job. Yet, it certainly will be better if the recently floated social security schemes are also made available to all the workers—formal and informal which would further enhance the living conditions of the carpet workers as well. The carpet sector has a lot of potential, but somehow it has been left behind.
The one thing I want to change currently in my job is the daily working hours—they are too long without a single break. There should be breaks in an 8-hour work day, as well as one day off a week. The second thing I would want to change is to have better working conditions for women. The current minimum wage is a joke—it should be revised—and a living wage should be provided to the workers so that in times of need workers can use the money they’ve been able to save up, rather than taking loans. The equality of the wages between men and women is also another issue. I believe that the opportunities for growth, development, and wage increases should be equal for both genders. All workers should be provided with training and education opportunities to develop their skills. Having access to these basic things at work would mean a better quality of life for women just like me. Everyone should be able to work in an environment where we are treated equally and fairly, so that we would not just work, but grow as human beings.
I am a part-time labourer in Indonesia. As the chairman of the SERBUK Indonesia Women's Committee I actively encourage female workers to organize, participate in gender education, and encourage women's participation in the decision making process within unions. I want female workers to be empowered and have better reproductive health rights such as menstruation leave, maternity leave, and see the implementation of an anti-sexual harassment law. In my experience, as a female labourer, the most frequent issues are the obstacles to reproductive health rights. Menstruation leave is not given. Also, female workers who are found out to be pregnant won’t have their contracts renewed. If this were to change I would be able to work with a peace of mind.
My name is Hue. I am from Viet Nam and I work in the textile industry. I wish I had a stable income, so I can cover my daily expenses and plan for the future.
My name is Tiyok and I work at a motorbike workshop and take up construction jobs in Indonesia. I hope that health insurance and social security were easily available for informal workers like me. My wages are uncertain especially because I don’t have a steady job. On days where there is no work, I don’t get paid. No work no pay. If there was social security, I wouldn’t always be so worried about the costs every time I am in pain. I have decided to fight for this right by joining the trade union to urge the local government to provide protection for informal workers.
FES has historically worked to strengthen the ability of trade unions and advocacy groups representing workers to have a say in political processes and to network to increase their actual ability to act. For more information on the regional trade union work by FES in Asia contact the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.
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