It is through the employment relationship that reciprocal rights and obligations are created between the employee and the employer. It continues to be the main vehicle through which workers gain access to the rights and benefits associated with employment in the areas of collective bargaining, labor law and social security. The reality is that many workers have continuous 3-month contracts, for years on end, with no guarantee of future extension.
As brands and retailers develop buying policies that are based on lower prices, shorter lead times and terms of trade and credit more favorable to them, their relationships with suppliers are becoming increasingly unstable and temporary. This in turn is translating into an increase in job insecurity and worsening working conditions. Manufacturers continue to restructure and flexibilise employment relationships to meet the demands of the buyers, to maximize profits, and to keep the workforce under control. Employers and buyers are actively seeking ways to keep wages low and limit the employment relationship by creating precarious work arrangements.
Recently Human Rights Watch conducted research into business practices of large brands, finding that factories hire workers through contractors to avoid making social security and pension contributions that would otherwise be legally required—a key cost-cutting strategy. They also found that in Cambodia, factories repeatedly use short-term contracts in excess of legally permissible limits, citing seasonal variations in brand orders.
Precarious work arrangements are contractual arrangements that have the effect of depriving workers of the protection they are due under the employment relationship. The impact is especially hard on groups that are already vulnerable such as women, migrant workers and workers in free trade zones, and upon those working in the so-called 'informal economy'.
What we do
Through our Urgent Appeal system, the CCC Network supports workers who lost their job after a workplace conflict or violation of their right. Our partners work directly with migrants, who are usually in the most precarious situations. We make sure brands and companies respect the freedom of association of workers, also when they are on a temporary contract.
If the employer finds you are pregnant, they will ‘stop’ your short term contract. They don’t call it dismissing you, which is a very serious term and can allow the worker to fight back. But the meaning of the word is the same.
Cambodian worker in the report ‘10 Years of the Better Factories Cambodia Project - A critical evaluation’
The garment and sportswear industries rely on production networks that utilize global outsourcing and subcontracting arrangements. Retailers and brands outsource the cut, make and trim (CMT) part of the garment manufacturing to trading companies or to employers. These in turn (sub)contract to other units or to home-based wage or own-account workers (also referred to as ‘bogus self-employment’ schemes). Increasingly this includes the use of labour contractors.
Governments are either 'modernizing' current labour laws, consciously refraining from implementing and enforcing them, or failing to protect private sector workers under the assumption that cheap labour is the only possible advantage in the current global economy, under pressure from international trade negotiations or because of corruption. Where legislation protecting the employment relationship is in place, implementation is often weak.
In sum, flexibilisation and precariousness of production have gone hand in hand with flexibilisation and precariousness of employment relationships, leading to what has become known as precarious work arrangements.