What women put up with in sweatshops

There are many laws, rules and regulations upholding the rights of women workers in the country.

Despite, many women workers (especially unionists) are victims of discrimination, harassment and abuse in their work places.

Oftentimes, women tolerate dire conditions and shun complaining or more forceful action for fear of losing their jobs.

Consider what women put up with in sweatshops:

The plight of pregnant workers

Pregnant workers of SBS are placed on forced leave without pay from the fourth month of pregnancy. Worse, they are not allowed to go back to work even one year after giving birth. Workers said the management wants to avoid paying maternity benefits.

“One of the workers had a miscarriage in the company rest room in 1997. Since then, pregnant workers had been placed on forced leave,” said Joana, a five-year employee in the firm, which produces Panasonic-labeled antenna and radio frequency (RF) modules that are exported to Korea and China.

Joana added, “One of my co-workers who inquired at the Social Security System was told that her maternity benefits were already forwarded to the company. After three months, management was still telling her that they don’t have it.”

Workers suffer the same fate at Texworld Industries, which employs 170 workers (140 women). Pregnant employees are placed on forced leave and are not reinstated after delivery. The Canadian/British firm manufactures t-shirts and baby dresses with brand/labels B. T. Kids, Gap, Genuine MM, Gymboree, Karen Scott, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger and Polo in Tarlac.

Pregnant workers are forced to take leaves without pay from the 7th month of pregnancy at SPI Phils., [Cavite] which employs 300 workers (180 women). The Korean company manufactures telephone keypads and remote controls with brands/labels AT&T-200C, IRC-426, ECHO-103602.

At DY Corp., a Korean producer of t-shirts and blouses for GAP in Cavite, pregnant workers are forced to work overtime even at night, posing risks to their health. There are 500 workers (420 women) in the firm.

At KS International, a Korean manufacturer of GAP t-shirts, jackets, pants and short pants, a worker had a miscarriage inside a company comfort room in 2001 because she was not allowed to take a leave

The Department of Labor and Employment Primer on the Rights of Women and Young Workers says, “ It shall be unlawful for any employee: (1) To deny any woman employee the benefits provided for by the Labor Code or to discharge any woman employed by him or her for the purpose of preventing her from enjoying any of the employee benefits; (2) To discharge a woman on account of her pregnancy or while on leave or in confinement due to her pregnancy; (3) To discharge or refuse the admission of such woman upon returning to her work for that she may again be pregnant. (http://www.dole.gov.ph, 2001)

Despite this, the injustice continues.

Harassment at work

Women workers of NKY International, a Japanese importer/exporter of second-hand garments and manufacturer of hand gloves, complained that male security guards inspect the color and brand of their underwear. They said that they are frisked when entering and leaving the company.

At Underwear Ltd., women contractual workers allege that Korean managers tap them in the buttocks and embrace them. The Cavite-based Korean company produces women’s underwear with brands DKNY, American Eagle, La Senza and blouses with J. Jill brand. The company employs 420 workers (378 women).

Some women workers allege that, in a company outing, hinipuan sila ng supervisors [supervisors touched their genitals] at DE Electronics, a Korean producer of telephone accessories with brands/labels Hello Direct and Sprint.

In UWR, a Taiwanese-owned producer of woven fabrics and textile-based products in Bataan, a worker formally complained in August 2002 that the plant manager held her hand, placed his hand on her shoulders, stroked her arms and back, professed his love — all unwelcome — on different occasions. The manager’s mood changed after the complaint; the poor worker had to endure verbal abuse and dagger looks. The worker stopped coming to work, while the complaint in the company, which employs 120 other women workers, remains in limbo.

Two women workers at PF Corp., a Filipino-Chinese packer of cooking oil (Golden Oil), flour and skim milk in Metro Manila, complained that, in 2000, a company supervisor, guard and foreman, asked for sexual favors in exchange for not reporting infractions.

Physical/verbal abuse

VPS Corp., [Cavite] employing 90 workers (63 women) is a Korean producer of baby dresses with brands/labels New York, Novelty, Gap and DKNY. In December 2001, a woman Korean production manager struck a 40-year old woman worker for allegedly not following instructions. The woman suffered hematoma.

A woman worker collapsed from hunger on January 25, 2002, when workers were forced to work overtime until 9 p.m. without break at This Is It, Inc. The Taiwanese firm manufactures microphones.

Aloha Manufacturing Corp. [NCR] is a Filipino-Chinese producer of t-shirts, undershirts and swim suits with brand/labels Gap, Naf-Naf, Old Navy, Mackays, Barbie, and Freeway. There are two hundred (160 women) workers in the company. Women workers complain that the company president always verbally abuses them.

In 2001, as alleged punishment for an unspecified infraction, a sewer was made to stand on a table for hours in full view of other workers at Dollar Save Philippines, a Korean firm producing coats and pants for Asia, Europe and the US.

In December 2002, during overnight work, the snap machine used for placing buttons on clothes caught Mon’s right thumbnail. Mon, 35, a sewer at SGD Corporation in Angono, Rizal, used her teeth to remove the button from her nail only to find that the machine had dug a hole in her thumb. “Take two Amoxicillin tablets and get back to work,” her supervisor told her after she asked for help.

“When there are orders for immediate shipment, you couldn’t refuse to work overnight even if you’re not feeling well,” Mon said in the vernacular.

Three days after, the same machine caught her left finger even as her thumb was still swollen and throbbed with pain.

The Filipino-Chinese SGD Corp. makes baby dresses, pants, blouses and jackets with labels Ralph Lauren, Walt Disney, Hello Kitty, McDonald’s, GAP, Spider Man, Young Land and Rose Cottage.

Some other forms of discrimination

Jalilah is a deeply religious Muslim; in conversations, she quotes from the Koran. One day in 2001, a manager at Mayto Phils., ordered Jalilah to stop wearing her veil, saying he connects it to terrorism. The Korean firm manufactures bags and apparel for Old Navy and GAP.

In a company in Cavite which produces wire harness for cars and motorcycles, women applicants for work are examined to confirm if they have not given birth. Applicant Gracia says women are pinatutuwad and poked and probed in the genital area. This practice is common among companies who seek to avoid employing workers with families or those with children.

Women union officers and members also get hit with union-linked discrimination practices by employers — harassment, suspension, transfer, demotion, even dismissal. They are no less vicious than those suffered by their male counterparts.

Women endure these, and more, in many workplaces. They are committed to the struggle for unions to protect their rights. They, in solidarity with other union members, will win, in the end.

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