Home Based Workers

The unorganised, informal sector makes up a majority of the workforce in South Asia. And home-based workers (HBWs), particularly women,  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.

It is estimated that there are over 67 million home-based workers in just four countries of South Asia alone. These include Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Millions remain in the shadows and go unaccounted for in national statistics.

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.

A majority of HBWs are women. Their labour drives industry and economies while also keeping their families out of poverty. However, they are rarely recognised as workers and access to labour entitlements remain out of their reach.

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

own acocunt workers

Own-Account Workers

Own-Account Workers or ‘ Self-Employed Workers’, are workers who procure their own raw materials, design their products, and sell them on their own in the market.

Own-Account workers have to compete with big brands, companies and corporate chains. Inaccessible credit options, high interest rates and difficulty in marketing their products are some of the many challenges they face.

Like piece-rate workers, own-account workers are extremely dependent on external factors for work. Women workers often switch between own-account and piece-rate work depending upon the demand, and the availability of work.

piece wage workers

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 homeworkers, 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, homeworkers 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 in South Asia

According to some sources, there are over 67 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:

  • R2M

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

  • R374M

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

  • R092M

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

  • R143M

    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.

INDIA Delhi Srinagar Hyderabad Lahore Karachi Rawalpindi Mumbai Udaipur Tirupur Ambur Thimphu Dhaka Feni Shariatpur Jamalpur Khulna Kathmandu Colombo Male Villingili Kudhahuvadhoo Kulhudhuffushi Thulhaadhoo Mahibadhoo Sambalpur Indore BANGLADESH BHUTAN NEPAL PAKISTAN SRI LANKA MALDIVES HOMENET SOUTH ASIAProject Locations Click on country name to see moreMap is representative and not to scale