A first and fundamental step towards providing safer working conditions for Cambodia ’s growing community of home workers will be taken next week, when the International Labour Organisation (ILO) holds the first training scheme specially designed to help the country’s home workers improve their safety, health and working conditions.
The four-day workshop, from 9-12 August, is part of the ILO’s WISH (Work Improvement for Safe Home) programme, which has been successfully tested in Thailand over the last five years.
34 people (40-50 per cent women) have been selected to take part in the WISH training. After completing the course they will themselves become WISH trainers, organising and running WISH courses for home workers throughout Cambodia and providing support and practical advice for those who want to launch their own health and safety initiatives.
The home working sector in Cambodia is dominated by women. This growing and often invisible workforce goes largely unrecognized in labour statistics and is unprotected by labour legislation. However, the ILO estimates that the average monthly earnings of home workers are between US$25 (so, less than a dollar a day) and US$100. Most work in small-scale manufacturing, such as clothes-making, weaving, handicrafts, jewellery and silverware. Male home workers are usually carpenters or craftsmen.
Although they work in the familiar environments of their own homes these workers face many hazards, and ILO research has shown that few are aware of the potential dangers. These include exposure to chemicals, unsafe use of machinery, poor lighting, electrical and fire risks, long hours and cramped or strenuous working positions. These factors can affect not only the health of the worker but that of their children and other family members.
The course will be led by the ILO’s specialist on Occupational Safety and Health for East Asia , Tsuyoshi Kawakami. Course participants will include government officials and representatives from the unions, employers and home workers.
Mr Kawakami said “We are focusing on practical measures that are low cost and easy for home workers to apply using their own resources. What makes WISH innovative and effective is that we train the home workers themselves to be trainers, so creating a self-sustaining, grassroots network”.
“This course is an example of the ILO’s commitment to improving conditions for the many millions of people in East Asia who work in the informal economy. They are just as entitled to decent working conditions as those in the formal sector, and simple, practical initiatives like this will help them reach that goal”.
This course is part of a US$1.9 million informal economy project covering three countries, funded by the UK ’s Department for International Development (DFID). The other two countries are Mongolia and Thailand .
After completing the ILO course the first group of new WISH trainers are expected to run their first training workshop in September or October 2004 in Phnom Penh.