Worker dormitories on Indonesia's Batam Island. Photo © 2011

Workforce casualisation is regarded, in the developed world, as a phenomenon that has come about to the benefit of employers and at least *some* employees who are in situations where it suits to keep their options open.

In the developing world, however, it is a different story.

The scenario commonly goes like this:

  1. Young person grows up in rural area of developing nation.
  2. Family needs more money, often to send younger siblings to school, and there is no rural work available.
  3. Youth travels to factory area (often a Exports Processing Zone, where there is less tax and red tape) to work either in light manufacturing if female or construction if male.
  • Alternatively, they might move to another country altogether, e.g. Indonesians to Saudi Arabia, Indians to the UAE, Filipinos to Hong Kong. It is common in this scenario for women to work as domestic workers (i.e. maids).
  1. Migrant youth lives in employer-provided dorm and works long hours 6 days a week. After paying their living expenses they send (‘remit’) what remains to their family.

There are millions of people living this story right now, making your household goods including the PC or other device on which you are reading this.

Weak bargaining position

There are a tidal wave of people seeking to work in these jobs. As they hurl themselves upon the local job market, the last thing in the world they are going to do is jeopardise their job-seeking chances by making unusual demands. The alternative is to make a living by even more precarious means such as garbage-picking.

They usually remain in these jobs for about five years and have every reason to ask for permanent employment, but they rarely get it. They are offered contract employment which must be renewed every year or so.

By the time they are in their early to mid twenties the formerly rural workers are too old(!) – the younger ones can work faster than they do and, moreover, they are starting to think about starting a family. Their contracts simply go unrenewed. Then they are replaced by new young workers who also do not have to support a household of their own and thus have no pressing need for higher wages.

The ITGLWF‘s recent survey of apparel factory workers found that a majority in Indonesia and a sizeable minority in the Philippines were being employed under short term contracts. Many of them are permanent employees in fact whilst only having the legal status of temporary employees, thus not receiving

  • annual leave pay,
  • sick pay,
  • termination payments, or
  • a written contract
Fortunately local unions have been having some success in organising workers in EPZs and pursuing their rights by legal means. When the law says workers must be made permanent after three years’ employment, and they are dismissed without reason after two years and eleven months’ service, it’s not hard to win the court’s sympathy.
Further reading
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