A Homeworker Union and the Fulfillment of Homeworker Rights

Devy Dhian Cahyati
Bellicia Angelica Tanvil

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This case study examines women homeworker efforts to improve work conditions and guarantee homeworkers’ rights in Deli Serdang district, North Sumatra. Women in this research village face economic challenges due to limited employment opportunities. As homeworkers, many women receive low wages, which are sometimes not enough to compensate for their time and investment. Homeworkers in the Deli Serdang research village are mainly employed in three sectors: fish grill weaving, mineral water straw wrappers, and incense packers.

Before the support of the Indonesian Foundation for Rural Capacity Building (Bina Keterampilan Pedesaan Indonesia – BITRA), many women homeworkers did not consider their status as workers and rights to fair wages, treatment and protection. Women homeworkers also did not participate in village-level decision making forums, through which they can influence policies that acknowledge and protect their rights as homeworkers.

As a first step to bolster workers’ solidarity, BITRA provided educational training to women homeworkers about their rights as workers. Following these training programs, women weavers formed a homeworkers group in 2015. This group was then officially recognised as the Prosperous Homeworkers Union (Serikat Pekerja Rumahan – Sejahtera – SPR) by BITRA’s provincial level congress.

Structurally, the SPR Sejahtera consists of the Regional Deliberative Council at the provincial level, the Branch Representative Council at the district level, and village and hamlet level groups. To further increase the capacity of women homeworkers, SPR Sejahtera formed the School for the Capacity of Women Homeworkers (SPPR) through which BITRA has also encouraged homeworkers to form independent businesses to diversify the local economy, and has helped them develop economic independence. Further a Credit Union was established for homeworkers to prevent them being exploited by loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest on loans.

The collective movement of women homeworkers which SPR Sejahtera leads has succeeded in effecting important changes at individual, community, and institutional levels. For individual members, women have learned their rights as workers, honed their public speaking skills and increased their ability to start and manage small businesses. At the community level, women homeworkers have increased their bargaining power and good relations with the village government. The SPR has also gained the trust of the village government and its members have been appointed to positions in the village Posyandu (maternal and child health group) and to assist community members in accessing government health insurance.

SPR-Sejahtera has also led important changes at the institutional level and has been recognised by the Office of Manpower of North Sumatra. The Union also played an instrumental role in the formulation and drafting of District Regulation to protect homeworkers, with the support of trade unions across North Sumatra. To date, challenges remain in garnering the support to ratify this draft District Regulation, as there is no higher legal basis for homeworker protection at the national level. Nevertheless, the Union has enabled women and communities to access government welfare programs and was recognised in the District Head’s Integrated Referral Service System regulation (Sistem Layanan Rujukan Terpadu – SLRT). All these changes have helped to provide institutional support for female homeworkers who were previously unable to access such welfare support and insurance as their work was not recognised.

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