There are more than 300 million home-workers in the developing world, more than half of who are women and 80% are from the poverty-ridden families. Home-workers are either self-employed people who get subcontracted work, or dependent workers working for an employer, intermediary or subcontractor. Although there is no agreed estimation of the number of home-workers or home-based workers in India, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) estimates that there are 53 million wage workers, 77 million informal workers, and 92 million self-employed workers in unorganized non-agricultural sector. NCEUS estimates that home-workers account for over 50% of India’s total labour force.
Trends suggest that home-work is increasing. While home-work was once linked to old craft traditions and cultural factors that restricted the mobility of women, it is increasingly being taken up because of declining opportunities for formal employment, expanding export demand for craft products, and a growth in the practice of subcontracting, which has boosted ‘flexible contractual work’ as opposed to formal work.
Sub-contracting work to home-workers offers several advantages to employers. These include recruiting from a much larger area at little cost, hiring workers in accordance with the variations in demand, avoiding social security costs and minimising the risk of unionisation. The employers basically wash their hands off all responsibilities towards the labour force they employ. On the surface, home-work also offers several advantages to families. Apart from employment and an additional source of income, it also saves travel time of workers and allows additional economic activities to be pursued (e.g. farming in rural areas or periodic wage work). To women, it allows them to perform their reproductive role and offer income to those who can’t work outside the home due to cultural factors.
However, the reality is often different. With home-work, the line between work, rest and recreation is usually blurred with very little time for rest or recreation. Women and girls suffer most from this lack of distinction. Some of the problems facing home-workers include: low pay, insufficient or irregular work, unclear or non-existent employment status, inadequate social security and benefits, poor health and safety, discrimination against women, lack of awareness of rights, and use of child labour.Home-workers often receive piece rates which are too low, below minimum wage stipulations, to support their families, and to enhance income they get their children to help with production. The reality that children are engaged in home-based work cannot be denied. Most children aged 5-14 in home-based worker households in India, are engaged in the home-based production activity. These children are robbed of their childhood and most often than not denied the right to education.