International Workers' Day 2023: Empowering Workers' Voices across Asia

We are recognizing workers in various sectors and industries across Asia. Their stories are the testament to the reality of their life and work conditions. There is no better way to learn how to empower the workers than seeing and hearing the stories through their lens.

To celebrate an auspicious International Workers' Day 2023, we are providing a platform for them to voice out about who they are, what are their wishes, how should their problems be addressed and among the most important questions, how must they be seen as humans with dignity.


“Our plantation owner was supposed to build us a house,” said Sojol Kairi, a worker at the Alinagar tea garden in the northeast of Bangladesh. “When I saw how bad it was, I asked him to make one like we had agreed. But instead, he gave me an impossible workload, and added other painful tasks to my duties.”

Tea workers, who often live in company accommodation, are frequently threatened with dismissal, eviction or wage cuts for accepting sub-standard conditions. FES Bangladesh told a story on challenges tea workers in Bangladesh have faced and initiatives to improve their collective bargaining, rights, protection and better living standards. Read here


“I would like to work directly with the principal employer instead of the contractor.” – Sabika, a piece rate worker told FES India with confidence.
Sabika has been working as a home-based informal worker for 4 years now. Her family, comprising her mother and siblings, are dependent on the meagre income that is made by stitching/fixing beads and sequins on apparels. The wage gets calculated as piece rate, meaning the worker gets paid per unit of work. For Sabika, for the rate is as low as INR 20-30 (around USD 0.2-0.4) per piece of apparel she decorates with beads. As an informal worker, there are no fixed working hours for her or timely payment of wages. 

The low wages and responsibility of a family does not permit her decent living conditions. Sabika would like to get paid a decent wage which she feels is not possible until the principal employer intervenes. With a decent wage she can also think of providing better education for her siblings.


FES Indonesia and SRI Institute found Hermina Ipa Hoy in the region of East Sumba, Indonesia while she was weaving. Delicately handling her fresh indigo woven cloth, she is proud of both the craft and her dark blue hands. “Look at my hands, it is dark (due to the natural colouring), people look up to me and respect me for what I do”, she said. Weaving has become her identity as the woman of Sumba whom many regard as traditional weaving artist. 

Hermina runs her small business, supported by her family and relatives. It has become the source of income for her family. Her products are sold to the big supplier, and in the past few years she started to use social media to sell her products.
Asked how long have you been in this job, Hermina gently replied that she started off as a teenager who from time to time accumulated both the skills, the details, the process from production to business and all the experiences combined to become one of the most renowned weaving women of Sumba.

"Are you happy with this job?" was one of the questions she unhesitatingly answered that she is proud of weaving work, thus of her own self. 

Weaving has provided good living for her family and her kids can go to school.  However, since her weaving only uses natural components for the yarn and the colouring; and they are not so easily available these days, the cost of production has gone up significantly. This affects the final price so much that it is difficult to find buyer on the market. Also, there needs to be an intellectual rights and protection towards the weaving products, since we are now competing with the machine-produced ones. 

Regarding protection and welfare, a female worker like Hermina would like to see more recognition on weaving artist as a profession. In the official paper, since they are living in the village they are often stated as farmer. Weaving is seen as a past-time activity. “We also want other people to be proud of our work,” said Hermina.


In Nepal, more than 70% of the economically active population is involved in the informal economy which is rapidly expanding. Many of them are deprived of fundamentals rights at work and suffer from inadequate safety and health standards.

Our colleagues from FES Nepal visited home-based workers in remote district and learned about their problems which is just an example of what this sector is facing. Let's take a moment to re-calibrate the focus for the betterment of workers livelihood and well-being in the clip: Home-based workers in Nepal and social protection issues (recorded by Deepika Dhakal and Samira Paudel, FES Nepal).


Nivea Villafuerte is a seafarer from Hamtic, Antique who works as an engine officer on board a ship. Her responsibilities include managing and maintaining various machinery such as purifiers, air compressors, freshwater generators, sewage treatment plants, and pumps. She has been working in the seafaring industry for three and a half years and finds her job challenging yet rewarding. 

Nivea Villafuerte's desire to work in a male-dominated industry started in high school, where she always saw herself working in a male-dominated industry. She wanted to challenge the gender norms and prove that women are equally capable of handling tasks that were typically associated with men. 

The job is not without its challenges though. The first one is gender discrimination. Despite the progress seen in the industry in the recent years, it remains male-dominated, and seniors can still be quite unwelcoming to female seafarers onboard. Nivea deals with this by doing her best no matter what task is given to her. In terms of safety and security, she has concerns about her cabin's security because officers are entitled to have master keys on board, which can be used to open her door without her knowledge.

Working aboard a ship for months on end also causes her to feel isolated and lonely. Internet access and female companions onboard aren’t always assured. However, when she is fortunate to have these things, Nivea is able to connect with her family.

Another challenge that Nivea faces is limited access to feminine products. As a female seafarer, it is challenging to bring a lot of sanitary pads on board during signing on, and it consumes a lot of space in her luggage. Changing is also an issue for Nivea as an engine officer. It is hard for her to change her working coveralls in the designated changing rooms, so she changes in her cabin before and after work.

Despite the challenges she faces onboard, Nivea remains committed in her dream of becoming a chief engineer, unwavering in her pursuit to prove her excellence. Nivea's story is a testament to the resilience and determination of female seafarers who are breaking down barriers and proving their worth in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Her words for aspiring female seafarers: Remember that this is not for faint hearted, but it is rewarding. Build your network. Always stay updated with the rules and regulations. Be willing to start from the bottom. And do not let yourself be intimidated. Have confidence in your ability.

The maritime industry has long been known for its male-dominated culture, but the tide is slowly turning as more women are entering the field. Maribel Villar Singian is one of 2% of women seafarers across the globe who are making waves in this traditionally male-dominated industry.

Maribel's journey to becoming a third officer on an international seagoing tanker vessel was not without challenges. Born and raised in Iloilo, Maribel initially had her heart set on becoming a medical doctor. However, due to the realities of poverty and the lengthy time required to pursue medicine, she decided to become a seafarer to help support her family and actualize her dream of seeing the world.

Despite facing rejection from several companies due to her gender, Maribel never gave up. She persisted in pursuing a career in the maritime industry. She was selected for a full scholarship from the Norwegian ship owners cadetship program with all her tuition and other fees during her college years. Since then, she has continued to climb in the ranks and hopes to become a chief officer in the future.

Over the years, there has been a significant change in gender diversity and inclusivity within the maritime industry. Back in 2014, when Maribel started her career, it was incredibly difficult for a female seafarer to land a job in a maritime company. However, in the years since then, more and more companies have been offering jobs to female seafarers, and the industry is becoming more diverse and inclusive.

This is a positive trend for the industry, as it not only brings new perspectives and ideas but also helps to break down stereotypes and biases. The industry is recognizing the immense talent and potential of women seafarers, and this is reflected in the growing number of women who are now pursuing careers in this field. As more and more women take up stronger space and stronger roles in the maritime industry, the industry becomes more representative of the society we live in today.

Working as the only female on board an international seagoing tanker vessel presented both challenges and achievements for Maribel. She had to be physically and mentally strong, and being a woman in a male-dominated environment created a different atmosphere and perspective. However, Maribel took this as an opportunity to prove that what a man can do, a woman can also do, and to celebrate the increasing gender diversity and inclusivity in the industry.

Maribel's story is a testament to the power of perseverance and breaking down barriers. She is one of the few women seafarers who are blazing a trail for the next generation of aspiring female seafarers. The maritime industry is slowly but surely becoming more diverse and inclusive, thanks to the courage and determination of women like Maribel.

To all women aspiring to become seafarers, her message is: Study hard, believe in yourself and never give up. The world is yours to conquer.


FES Thailand revisits a story of gig workers who held important positions during the pandemic era. They have been designated as essential services across economies but often lack the necessary support that workers need.

Together with civil society groups, the government has been able to step up to provide relief to the workers but there are lots of challenges to address and workers are not being empowered enough to voice out their concerns. Watch the clip: Rider: A ‘business partner’ who serves algorithm.


“I have been doing this job for 3 years now and I am satisfied with this job. I work regular business hours and have Saturday and Sunday off. The working environment here is very good. Air conditioners are installed in the sewing workshops, so we do not feel uncomfortable or tired.

In addition, union officers and the company’s board of management are very friendly and care about the workers. They always show their consolation and support for. We also receive all union benefits. Overall, I am quite satisfied. My only suggestion is that, if possible, a kindergarten near the company should be built so that we can send our children there to go to work.”

“The work is difficult since the maintenance procedure of machinery and equipment must be completed as quickly as possible so that the manufacturing line is not stopped. I hope that the company can always equip us with the best specialized protection to work safely and more efficiently. 

The holiday bonus will be increased in the near future based on the results of the trade union's negotiation with the company's board of management. I hope that the Vietnamese trade union will have many programs to honour for employees who are union members and have made great contributions to the development of the company.”

"I have been working for the company for 14 years. I am happy with this job. The company has many benefits for us, but I hope my salary will be increased for a more stable life. Recently there has been no working overtime in the company, our income is not enough to live on."

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