From Sat Mar 25 06:08:55 2000
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2000 22:19:22 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: PHILIPPINES: Globalization Means Less Work for Home-Based Workers
Article: 91977
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Less Work for Home-Based Workers

By Marites Sison, IPS, 22 March 2000

MANILA, Mar 22 (IPS)—Just a decade ago, Sitio Angel Central in the Philippine province of Laguna was living up to its name, producing papier mache angels by the thousands per week.

Indeed, the home-based women workers who made the angels—as well as boxes, deer, horses, and other decorative pieces—could hardly rest because of the great demand overseas for their handiwork.

But now the papier mache industry is dying in that small community, along with similar enterprises in the rest of Laguna, just one hour away by car from Manila. These in turn have left thousands of home-based workers (HBWs), most of them women, suddenly idle and desperate for other means by which they could contribute to their respective family coffers.

In truth, a study released just this month indicates that many of those women HBWs happen to be the family breadwinners, and the dwindling demand abroad for their handicrafts has meant that they have had to cut down on family expenses, including food and clothing. Many have also been forced to incur debts, which may spell even greater financial problems for them in the future.

The multi-country study on subcontracted women workers says the ultimate culprits for all these are globalisation and trade liberalisation. But it also says that the long-term solution is for governments to improve the general politico-economic situation toward producing more and quality jobs for all in need.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines subcontracting as an industrial or commercial practice whereby the party placing the contract requests another enterprise or subcontractor to manufacture or process parts of the whole of a product or products that it sells as its own.

HBWs, meanwhile, have been described by activists as being at the bottom of the subcontracting ladder in industries requiring flexible or contingent labour. The workers are usually paid per piece, and are often not protected by local labour laws.

To many poor women, however, home-based work has been seen as one solution to their families' chronic financial problem. Thus, even if they have no access to maternity and sick leaves, or medical and death benefits, these women have been thankful nevertheless for the work that provide them income and still enable them to fulfill their duties at home.

The Philippines experienced a boom in home-based work in the 1980s. But then came the 1990s and the entry of the likes of China into the global market. Soon enough, such countries were offering lower prices for the same goods the HBWs in the Philippines produced.

According to the study, which was conducted by the nongovernment organisation PATAMABA and academics from the University of the Philippines, Philippine-based exporters have been losing the battle in the global market because prices of exports from China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand are cheaper mainly because of much lower wages received by workers in these countries.

Or as economics professor Joseph Lim, one of the authors of the study, puts it, globalisation has forced countries like the Philippines to enter cutthroat competition in the international market (that) at the same time releases forces that bring crises and economic difficulties.

What is needed, if one takes the present globalised setting as a given, is alternative, sustainable and decent livelihood for the women home workers, says Lim. This can be achieved only if rural and urban economies become dynamic enough as a result of rural, urban and regional development, and skills and entrepreneurship are delivered as well.

But so far, current trends have only left HBWs in this country unable to meet the daily minimum wage of 198 pesos (about five dollars) set by the government. The study also says that many actually want to start their own businesses but are hamstrung by lack of capital and markets.

Yet the researchers noted that despite such difficulties, the male members of the HBWs' families usually failed to cut down on their own expenditures such as alcohol and cigarettes. There was also little indication that the unemployed spouses of HBWs tried to ease the burden of their wives by helping around the house.

The researchers recommend that changes occur in marriage and family relations in order to promote shared parenting and housework, equitable division of labour and democratic decision-making as well as to address and prevent violence and abuse directed at women and children.

Expensive male entitlements such as cigarettes, alcohol and leisure activities (such as drinking and partying with friends) during times of crisis should give way to a fairer distribution of expenditures and sacrifices between husband and wife and among family members in general, they add.

On a macro-level, HBWs can explore several points of advocacy, including a call for reasonable import controls and for government support in terms of loans, technical and marketing assistance.

But the researchers acknowledge that the constraints here include the government's tight fiscal position in relation to International Monetary Fund-imposed austerity measures and its continued inability to provide for safety nets for sectors adversely affected by globalisation and the economic crisis.