Working women in front line of slowdown

Thu Jul 30, 2009 10:08am EDT
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By Thin Lei Win

BANGKOK (Reuters) - When a major swimwear factory in Bangkok found its sales plummeting in the downturn, it laid off some 1,900 workers, almost all of them women.

That didn't surprise labor activists who say women are the most vulnerable workers in recessions, especially in low wage industries in developing countries where gender equality lags.

"Even before the crisis, there were differences in the labor market situation between women and men," said Gyorgy Sziraczki, a senior economist at the International Labor Organization's Asia- Pacific headquarters.

"Fewer women are working then men, and women also have a much larger share of vulnerable employment. The crisis to a certain extent has widened the gap."

Garment worker Chalad Chaisaeng is a case in point. After working for 15 years at the Bangkok swimwear factory, she is struggling to support her two children, ill husband and parents with her severance pay of around 110,000 baht (around $3,300).

"I did not expect the company to do this. I am a good worker," said Chaisaeng.

Millions of female workers across the region will face Chaisaeng's plight, according to economists and activists who say women, especially those in low-skilled contract and temporary employment, are particularly susceptible to the downturn.

The latest figures for Asia by the International Labor Organization (ILO) project a 5.7 percent rise in unemployed women in 2009, compared to 4.9 percent for men.   Continued...

<p>Nongnuch Thansoongnern, 38, prepares her vegetables at her stall on the outskirts of Bangkok, July 17, 2009. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom</p>