Women workers unite to fight for rights, sing hymn of solidarity

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Left-behind women and poor migrant workers make down jackets ordered by customers at a poverty alleviation workshop in an industrial concentration area in Guangshan County, central China’s Henan province, March 9, 2018. (Photo from CFP)
Left-behind women and poor migrant workers make down jackets ordered by customers at a poverty alleviation workshop in an industrial concentration area in Guangshan County, central China’s Henan province, March 9, 2018. (Photo from CFP)

As the world commemorated the International Workers’ Day early this week, women workers across Asia and the Pacific united to continue their fight for workers’ rights and push for their demands on social protection and decent work.

Through a political statement, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and its partners and members – Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU) – Hong Kong, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights – Philippines, Awaj Foundation – Bangladesh, and Seruni – Indonesia – underscored the importance of solidarity among women workers who, for many decades, have been subjected to labour exploitation and unsafe working conditions.

“All workers – from agriculture to manufacturing and garment industries, from informal, home-based, domestic, to migrant workers, from caregivers, health to platform workers – have all been burdened by the deleterious effects of corporate greed and neoliberalism. The existing systems have trapped workers in a hell hole for a very long time,” Triana Kurnia Wardani of Seruni Indonesia said, noting that many workers, especially women, across the world are forced to deal with low-wage work with poor and unsafe working conditions just to survive.

Kamz Deligente of Center for Trade Union and Human Rights in the Philippines also underscored that governments, through its anti-workers laws and policies, have perpetuated labour rights violations committed by employers and businesses.

“Governments must also be held accountable for failing to uphold and protect the rights and welfare of workers. Some countries already have laws and policies on workers’ rights, but they are poorly implemented. Worse, governments often conspire with big businesses to ensure huge profit at the expense of workers,” Kamz shared.

Meanwhile, Wardarina of APWLD shared that while women workers are struggling for decent work, they have remained resolute not only in putting an end to labour exploitation but also in dismantling the neoliberal system that has favoured profit over workers’ rights and welfare.

“Despite the challenges, women unite to put an end to the vicious cycle of labour exploitation. Women have long been central to labour strikes and the labour movement. We will continue to raise our voices. We will resist and persist until our demands are met,” Wardarina said.

“United in struggle means collective power. Through a collective voice, women workers gain the power to speak up, demand respect and dignity and contribute to achieving labour rights and a safe workplace for all workers,” Wardarina added.

Together, feminist and labour organisations put forward their demands for employers and governments to provide decent work and living wages and ensure social protection of workers, and for governments to strengthen workers’ participatory democracy and ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions No. 87 and 98 on rights to organise and collective bargaining, No. 189 (on domestic workers protection), 177 (concerning home-based workers), and 190 (on violence and harassment).

As part of commemoration of Labour Day, APWLD, its partners and members will hold an online solidarity protest on Friday, May 6, 2022, 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm BKK. The online event titled “Collective Struggles, Solidarity Forever”, will feature over 20 women organisations from Asia and the Pacific working on women’s labour rights to share stories and demands related to labour rights and rights to decent work and a living wage. Musicians Melanie Subono and Himigrante will also perform during the online event.

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