Home Based Workers

The unorganised, informal sector makes up a majority of the workforce in South Asia. And home-based workers form a vital part of informal economies in the region. By definition, home-based workers are a category of informal sector workers who carry out remunerative work from their own homes or adjacent grounds or premises.

Home-based work is very diverse. On one end, you can find home-based workers engaged in traditional industries like carpet weaving, basket making and embroidery. On the other, you will also find them in new-age industries like assembling micro-electronics or medical equipment.

Home-based workers can be further divided into TWO categories. They are:

Own-Account Workers

Own-Account Workers or Self-Employed Workers who are in direct contact with the market. They buy their own raw materials, design their own products and sell them on the market. An example of an own-account worker would be someone who owns a home-based tailoring unit.

Own-account workers often face stiff competition from corporate houses and large companies. They cannot access credit options and when they do the interest rates tend to be very high. Marketing their products has always been a big challenge.Often, it is difficult to distinguish them from piece-rate workers since own-account workers too are heavily dependent on outside forces for work and women workers move seemlessly from being own-account workers to being piece-rate workers and so on, depending on where there is work.

Piece-Rate Workers

A majority of home-based workers are piece-rate or sub-contracted workers. This means, they rely on contractors or intermediaries for work. They are paid for each piece they produce. Piece-rate workers, who are also known as home-workers, can be found across various industries. They are the last rung in global supply chains that are an integral part of industries, including, garments, footwear, and electronics. They are also an undeniable presence in local markets like in textiles, incense stick making, and the bidi industry. Packaging and agro-processing also benefits from the presence of home-workers.

When compared to own-account workers, home-workers are more vulnerable to exploitation and harassment by suppliers, contractors, and employers. They lack bargaining power and are unable to secure regular work, better payment terms, and fair terms of work. There is also a glaring disparity in the pay they receive when compared to factory workers. And production costs related to transport, electricity, raw materials, and equipment are often downloaded on them as are the risks of production.

Women Home-Based Workers

According to some sources, there are approximately 50 million home-based workers in South Asia, a majority of these being women. They contribute significantly to their families, communities, and national economies, however, they remain invisible and unrecognised. The very nature of their work, that confines them to their homes, means that organising remains a challenge. To add to their invisibility, there have been little efforts to include them in national statistics. And they remain unrecognised as workers and, hence, unprotected by law.

The Statistics

Globally, estimates indicate that there are 100 million home-based workers, of these 50 million live in South Asia.
More recent statistics indicate that there are:

  • 2 Million HBWs in Bangladesh
    (Labour Force Survey, 2009-10)

  • 37.4 million HBWs in India
    (National Sample Survey Organisation, 2011-12)

  • 0.92 million HBWs in Nepal
    (Labour Force Survey, 2008)

  • 1.43 million HBWs in Pakistan
    (Labour Force Survey, 2008-2009)

These figures are often contested as being grossly under estimated,
making the case for better and more frequent collection of statistics even stronger.