Joining Hands to Organize Home-Based Workers

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25th Anniversary - Janhavi Dave
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In this interview, HomeNet International Coordinator Janhavi Dave tells us of proud moments in the home-based workers’ movement and shares her thoughts on visibility in the sector.

There have been many proud moments of the home-based workers’ movement in the last 25 years. In 1996, the ILO Convention on Home Work (C177) was passed, which was a big milestone and a win for many home-based workers around the world who were trying to come together and push for a policy in their own countries, but also to have a convention at an international level.

WIEGO really supported in achieving this convention – getting the statistics to push the advocacy process at a global level, which was extremely fruitful. What I hear from all the sisters is that WIEGO was formed after doing that study and after getting that convention passed at the International Labour Convention. So WIEGO supported the home-based workers’ movement, and I think the home-based workers’ movement sowed the seeds for WIEGO … so there has been this relationship for a very long time.

What we saw in the COVID-19 crisis was the expansion of the home-based-worker sector, in numbers as well as regions and the sectors in which they work. In 2019, a study found that there were 260 million home-based workers in the world. What is being spoken about right now is that this number has almost doubled. Everybody talked about the traditional home-based workers – the artisans or the women who embroider and make baskets and sew – but now people are talking about home-based workers in all sectors, including gig work, telemarketing and online marketing. At least there’s been more visibility since the pandemic began, and many trade unions are increasingly interested in getting back to organizing home-based workers.

Over the next 25 years, the home-based worker sector is going to expand, but I don’t see the visibility increasing. In fact, employers are finding it convenient to push this work at home to reduce their own burden, especially around social protection. So I see this sector expanding, but there is going to be less and less protection or labour rights provided to home-based workers. However, there is an encouraging trend in that the trade unions are getting more interested. I also see many of us joining hands and working together in organizing home-based workers.

Another source of pride over the past decades has been seeing regional home-based-worker organizations start to form. We’ve had some very encouraging and excellent examples, like the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India. SEWA not only coined the term “home-based workers”, but also organized home-based workers around India and then started taking their work to other international trade unions.

HomeNet Southeast Asia formed in 1999, HomeNet South Asia in 2000, and slowly these two organizations started becoming very strong, with more affiliates and more organizing of home-based workers in these regions. From 2010 onwards, we saw expansion of this organizing in the home-based workers’ movement beyond Asia – in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. After that, from 2018, we started gearing up to form a global organization.

In February 2021, we launched HomeNet International, and WIEGO played a strong role in facilitating our formation. And even today, in the two regions where we still don't have strong movements – Africa and Latin America – WIEGO is supporting the organizing effort.

When you ask what it means to be part of WIEGO, it’s like what it means to be part of a family: We’re all part of the same family. Be it SEWA, be it HomeNet South Asia, now HomeNet International, WIEGO, all of us have worked together to build this movement and push the movement forward. This partnership that we built – and the process that we built it with – is a very democratic one and has so far been smooth. What is going to be challenging is how do we work together, but independently? But so far, how we’ve worked together has been a very organic process.

  • This has been edited for brevity. As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, we are profiling WIEGO’s institutional members – trade unions, cooperatives and associations of informal workers that are active in WIEGO.
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Informal Economy Theme