BWI – March 5, 2009

8 March 2009, International Women’s Day: BWI calls for women to be included in tackling the global economic crisis

Unionists all around the world are commemorating March 8, the International Women’s’ day a symbol for women’s struggle towards decent living and working conditions for themselves and their families. The recent financial crisis has shown its knock-on effects and has developed into a serious global economic crisis. In such a context, it is necessary to identify and respond to specific needs of women and girls. Anita Normark, General Secretary of the BWI says “As jobs in wood and construction are disappearing at an accelerating rate, women in BWI sectors are likely to be severely hit by unemployment and poverty.We must not forget women in those difficult times but recognize the unique contribution that they can make in the resolution of this crisis and toward social progress.”

On a global scale, only approximately 10 % of all workers’ in the BWI sectors are women. All women working in BWI sectors have one thing in common: Their jobs are mostly unskilled, highly informal, unstable, badly paid and dangerous. Far too often they are exposed to violence and sexual harassment.

Their percentage in the European and US construction workforce is small, 35% of the workers in the BWI industries in Asia/ Pacific are women. They work in classic construction and wood trades such as masonry, brick making, painting or carpentry. In Africa, women occupy basic jobs in construction or perform physically hard work like cutting stones in stone quarries. Latin-American women in BWI sectors are mostly found in forestry and woodworking factories.

According to ILO reports, women represent 60 percent of the working poor. This also accounts for women workers in BWI sectors. ILO director General, Juan Somavia, states: “40 percent of workers world wide are women. Yet, we are far from making progress in taking women out of poverty by creating productive and decent employment.” In times of economic crisis, there is a very high risk for women to be pushed even further towards the poverty line and to be affected by unemployment, increase of responsibilities both at work and at home, decrease of income and potential increase in social and domestic violence.

Normark adds: “Creating decent jobs for women is a basic requirement for the sustainability of our societies. Gender perspectives should be taken into account in relation to vocational training, health and safety as well as livelihoods.”.

It is for this reason that BWI has developed a gender mainstreaming policy as a tool to achieve gender equality and to enhance women’s participation in trade union activities and structures. BWI is also integrating women’s workers interests in its decent work and capacity building campaigns. BWI continues to push for the practical implementation of ILO Core Labour Standards.

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Adding another 3 hours to daily forest work? Case of Agnes Wanja Ngaru -Nursery attendant in Kenya

Walking for one and half hours to workplace and another one and half hours on the way back home is part of daily routine for Agnes Wanja Ngaru, a forest nursery attendant based in Ngong forest in Nairobi, Kenya. She has no option but to walk to work everyday to make ends meet for daily survival. With a meager salary of about 110 US dollars per month, Agnes can hardly even support her food requirement and part of her daily needs.

She joined Forest department in 1990, and got transferred to her present Forest Station in 1992.With over 15 years work experience, she is yet to receive any skill training and comfortably perform her duties based on job training. Working without Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) like gloves, overcoats has become normal routine in her daily forest work.

On the workload, she laments of the increased workload in the preparation of seedlings since 1994 when the government retrenched a number of workers as part of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) advocated by the World Bank and indicated that the nursery production has since then gone down from an average of 200,000 seedlings per year to the current level of about 65000 seedlings per year.

Being in charge of nursery operations, she closely monitors nursery operation which include root pruning, watering, pricking out and weeding. She reports daily (Monday to Friday) at work from 8.00a.m to 5.00 p.m. During high seasons, the nursery engages casual laborers on piece work basis. She indicates that on average she can pot about 500-600 small polythene tubes, while in some cases she prick out about 1000-1500 seedlings per day.

Currently the nursery has 5 permanent workers, where she is the only woman. By the time of the interview the nursery had engaged 5 casual laborers where 4 of them were women. It is generally assumed that women can pot or prick out faster than men in nursery work.

Agnes belongs to the Civil Servant Union, where she pays a monthly due of ksh100 ($1.25 USD). She gets deducted more for the Cooperative Society at Ksh 1000 ($12.48 USD), She has fond memories of credit assistance that she gets from the Cooperative Society.

Agnes works closely with Self Help and Women Groups in the adjacent locations to ensure that they get proper training and right information on how to develop tree nurseries as business enterprises.

There is no doubt that women workers like Agnes Wanja Ngaru continue to dedicate much to work and even extra time (by walking) for sustenance of the family, while the pay/income for forest work remain dismal. With only 9 years to go to before reaching the compulsory retirement age of 55 years, Agnes like many women workers have little to look forward to under the social security.

India: BWI Skills Training on house painting for women construction workers in Tamil Nadu

The BWI in collaboration with the Builders Association of India first time in history initiated a Skills Training progamme on Non Traditional Skills Training for women – which means training women in the construction sector with skills which are mainly considered the work of men. This training was implemented under the Gender Project funded by FNV. The first batch of 26 women were trained in 2 batches, one in October 2008 and the other one in December 2008. Four women construction workers who underwent the training were interviewed. They were S. Thangam, S. Dakhyani, S. Gracy and T. Valli from Tamil Nadu. The questions and answers are:

What is the situation in which women construction workers have been placed in the post globalization period?
In India since the beginning, we women construction workers remain unskilled and are always given the jobs of helpers with the lowest grade and lowest pay. We have had no security of any sort and on top of that we have been discriminated at home, at work and in society as well. We start our careers as unskilled and remain unskilled for ever, in spite of the long experience and exposure women have not been considered at all. The gap between a skilled male worker and an unskilled women worker unfortunately places us in the lowest level of empowerment, advancement and social position, Whenever there is a chance for skills training the women were not given the opportunity due to gender biasness.

How do you come to know about the painting training? What was your experience during the training? 
Since we are members of the union, we had an opportunity to attend a Gender Awareness campaign in our union and in the address, we were informed by the President of the union Bro. Pon Kumar that BWI was organizing a training in painting for women. He emphasized that this was a skills training for women workers in the era of mechanization. The training was systematically planned and the instructions imparted by well trained and experienced trainers sponsored by large Paint Companies in collaboration of the Builders of Association of India which is a well known association.

What is the impact of the training on your career with special reference to employment and health and safety?
During the training, the participants were assured that they would be provided regular employment with better and higher wages. As an unskilled worker, we were getting Rs.200 per day but now after the training we receive Rs. 250. This has encouraged other women to participate in future trainings. The training has also assisted us to realize the importance of health and safety at our worksites. Previously, we were mixing paints with bare hands, but now we are mixing the paints with a rod or stick. We have also started using gloves and masks to safeguard ourselves from occupational diseases.

What do you feel about the importance of this skills training?
We were ignorant about training facilities. We had the impression that we could become skilled if we continued to do our job continuously. But now we realize that theoretical knowledge is as important as practical training. This training has provided us both aspects of painting. And best of all, the theoretical part of training is strengthened by the practical part. Along with the training, materials in the local language makes it even easier to understand the basics, the what, how and why.