Published: 29/04/2008

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (3)

The matrix below is the findings of WRI researchers about a number of issues faced by women workers in their industrial relations.


Issues of Women Workers



Work Environment

Facilities of bathroom/toilet not up to the health standards

Poor lighting facilities

Unfriendly health officers

Facilities of dining room unavailable

Discriminative public facilities

Labor Rights and Freedom of Association

laborers do not receive protection from the company

No health insurance, freedom to decide on working overtime, or protection from sexual harassment

Domination of men in the Representative of Work Units (PUK) and Labor Union (SP)

The pressure of double roles when involving in organizations

Companies impede the activities of labor organizations systematically

laborers participate in labor unions only when they are in trouble or when they have personal interests

Representation of women workers in the labor union is very low

Labor unions’ meetings that take place in the evening hinder the access, control, and influence of women workers

Salary, work, and overtime

The calculation of laborers’ wages is not transparent

No insentive for workers that succeed to fulfill targets of production

The salary received in unsatisfactory with daily needs that laborers are forced to work overtime

Working hours that extend time limit are often uncompensated

Only given a maximum of 5 minutes to go to the bathroom

The tiring position of standing for 7 hours straight during work

The lunch menu is of inferior quality

Reproductive Health and Sexual Harrassment

Maternal leave is often made an issue

Apparatus of the company considers sexual harrassment as of little importance

Adequate facility is unavailable for pregnant laborers


As revealed in this book, women workers often encounter various issues that they find hard to overcome. This is closely related to the industrial relation pattern between them and their supervisors or the officers of labor union at their workplace. Linda, Ika, Enong, and Tati, for instance, must always be ready to “spare time” for overtime in the evening. It is hard for them to reject it. The company’s demands, solidarity among laborers, and the high living costs in the city cause laborers to find it even more difficult to avoid overtime. However, laborers also often experience disparity between the overtime hours and the payment they receive. For instance, Linda had worked overtime for 140 hours, but the payment she received was only equal to 100 hours. Another similar incident was experienced by Ika, who works at the sewing section. The lighting was very inadequate, causing her eyes redness and exhaustion when she was required to work overtime.


Apart from working overtime, women workers are also required to fulfill a certain production target. If they succeed, they would not receive an “incentive”, let alone laborers who do not manage to achieve their production target. Ika, for instance, revealed that laborers who fail to fulfill the determined production target would usually be scolded or punished. Meanwhile, laborers that succeed to fulfill their targets do not receive any reward or remuneration at all. This is also the company’s form of exploitation, and such a pattern becomes a habit that is repeated continuously. The laborers, who are individually weak, are forced to adjust themselves to do such duties. In this situation, women workers would certainly need the assistance of a strong labor organization that sides with the interests of laborers, creating a more fair industrial relation.


Women workers’ vulnerability against exploitation is a classic problem in industrial relations. On the other hand, labor unions often have no function in fighting for women workers’ interests. As a result, this influences other non-economic aspects that degrade the value of women workers. For instance, women workers are often subjected to verbal and non-verbal sexual harrassment by their supervisors or the company’s security. The officers of the labor union, mostly men, would even belittle this issue. The issue is difficult for the women workers to solve on their own. Sexual harassment, which repeatedly happens to women workers, is not taken seriously by the apparatus of the company. Most likely, they hardly or do not understand that sexual harassment is a form of insult. Therefore, the portion and existence of women within the labor union should be taken into account. Moreover, it is also important to socialize gender perspective and sensitivity among laborers and apparatus of the company in order to arrange and implement regulations that can punish the sexual abuser.


The weak influence of labor unions within the industrial relation also conditions another form of discrimination. For instance, a majority of facilities for women workers are below standard and not “user-friendly”. The condition of the women workers’ bathrooms and toilets is far worse and dirtier than the same facilities for the company’s apparatus. The bathroom’s water, dirty and nasty-smelling, could hardly be used to wash one’s face or shower. The facility would be “repaired” when a representative of the Contract Giver comes to inspect the Contract Acceptor’s company. Apart from taking products, the company’s representative will also inspect to check whether all public facilities for laborers have adhered to the fixed standard. Because they do not want to lose the work contract, the contracted company would certainly repair or clean the public facilities. However, the women workers could still not benefit from it. Every day they would have to bring a minimum of one liter of bottled water for cleaning purposes. Such “simple” things seem to never draw the attention of labor unions of PUK.


As previously mentioned, the male-dominated labor unions or company’s PUK often make decisions without considering the interests and positions of women workers. For instance, their meetings are often held in the evening. This would certainly place several members, particularly married women workers, in a difficult position. They would automatically lose access, control, and influence. The representation of women workers in such organizations would be reduced and the needs of women, which should be fought for, would often be forgotten. Not to mention the double role and social values that make it a “taboo” for women to go out late. This is the obstacle for women workers in getting more involved in organizational activities of the labor union. The double role would often be considered as a trigger of a broken marriage/household when women must leave domestic work to participate in organizational meeting in the evening. That was experienced by women workers that are actively involved in PUK or labor unions that the WRI team studied in this book.


PUK’s and labor unions’ helplessness are not only caused by internal factors, but also external factors. The company’s management systematically weakens labor organizations by not providing protection or warranty for laborers that are actively involved in organizations. The company also often gives sanctions, obliges overtime work, influences and even forbids other laborers to get more involved in labor organizations. As a result, jealousy among laborers flared; laborers active in the organizational activities of the labor union would always be talked about behind their backs by laborers that are reluctant to participate. In other words, various forms of intimidation are run systematically by companies to reduce the roles of labor unions and PUK. Companies could weaken laborers organizationally, yet women workers could strategize such obstacles using another non-organizational way.