Economic Development Policies and Women Workers: Filipina Workers in a Japanese Transplant


 Licuanan-Galela, Niza. 2001. “Economic Development Policies and Women Workers: Filipina Workers in a Japanese Transplant.” NWSA Journal 13 (3): 169–80.

Author: Niza Licuanan-Galela


Introduction: Economic globalization has resulted in the integration of economies and workers on a worldwide scale. Export industrialization is one of the key strategies that has made globalization possible; central to the success of export industrialization programs are transnational corporations (TNCs) that engage in off-shore productions. Encouraged by the economic success of export industrialization, many developing countries have anchored their development programs on this economic strategy. To secure investment in their countries, governments offer inducements that often include export processing zones (EPZ) with no-strike policies, cheap but highly- skilled labor, and tax holidays. In return, the host governments expect the TNCs to create employment opportunities, and through their investments, to boost the domestic economy.

Women are the major resources for the cheap but skilled labor force that are found in the EPZs. For example, in the Philippines, women compose more than 80 percent of workers involved in export industrialization, and have formed the backbone of the country's economy (Chant 1996; Chant and Mcllwaine 1995;Hutchinson 1992). Fuentes and Ehrenreich contend that due to both biological and social reasons, women have been heavily recruited to do the labor-intensive jobs found on global assembly lines (1983). Boserup (1970) and others (Beneria and Sen 1981; Buvinic 1976; Ward 1988) contend that economic development strategies, especially those concerned with industrial development, more often led to further marginalization of women's status. Studies on women in global assembly lines indicate that women's work experiences, especially the way they are treated in these factories, have profound effects on their perception of their status (Chant and Mcllwaine 1995;Nash andFernandez-Kelly1983; Ong 1987;Poster 1998; Tiano 1994; Ward1990; Wolf 1992).

This study addresses two questions on women engaged in TNC global assembly line work.' First, what type of labor-management policies are found on global assembly lines in the Philippines? Second, how have these labor managerial policies and practices affected Filipino women workers on the global assembly line? Beyond these questions, the paper also explores the implications of these work experiences on rural women's social position in the Philippines. If global assembly-line work emerges as the most dominant form of industrial work for rural women, would it lead to the enhancement or further marginalization of women workers' status?

This research is based on a case study using in-depth interviews with Filipino women workers in a Japanese automotive, wiring-harness, assembly plant. The date provides insights on how work is engendered on the global assembly lines. It helps us understand the workplace dynamics that underlie the experiences women workers have reported in earlier research (see Chant and Mcllwaine 1995; Eviota 1992; Fuentes and Ehrenreich 1983; Grossman 1980; Ong 1987).This study also offers insights into how national development policies are transformed at the local level into labor- management policies which directly affect women's work experiences.

I argue that the working conditions in the local factories are a product of the interplay between the local culture's gender ideology and the work cultures' gender ideology. The detailed information presented here on how Japanese labor-management systems are transferred and adopted into Southeast Asian global assembly lines broadens our understanding, not only of the degree and form of transference of Japanese labor managerial practices; it also delineates the unique ways in which gender is manipulated in the work place. In global assembly lines not only are investments and technology transferred from the mother corporation to the off-shore production factories, but systems of gendered labor-management are transplanted as well.

Topics: Development, Economies, Gender, Women, Globalization, Livelihoods, Multi-National Corporations Regions: Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia Countries: Japan, Philippines

Year: 2001

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