Innovations in trade union approaches in Malaysia's garment industry
Women workers employed in the export-oriented manufacturing sector in Malaysia have traditionally had poor access to representation by trade unions for two reasons. Firstly, government rules and regulations have prevented sectoral trade unions from representing large sections of the workforce, and secondly, unions themselves have not considered women their primary constituency. As a result, non-governmental organisations (NGO), rather than trade unions, have played an important role in educating women workers about their rights since the 1980s. In the garment industry in recent years, NGO activism has precipitated a change in the trade unions 'focus towards women workers in general, and towards female overseas migrant workers in particular. Where once unions viewed migrant workers as undermining the wages and conditions of Malaysian workers, they now assert their right to equality in the workplace. This paper explores the context in which NGOs became involved in union-like activities and unions' responses to that involvement.
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