So, how can social dialogue can support an average garment worker?

Let’s look at a female garment worker named Amirah in Indonesia for example. For the past two months she has been asked to work overtime in order to ensure that a brand’s order is delivered on time. She can’t afford to say no: she needs the extra money, plus management has indicated that workers will be dismissed if they don’t comply. She is working twelve or more hours a day but is not being paid overtime pay for those additional hours. She wants to speak up and demand that the factory pays her what she’s due, but she knows that if she does she will be harassed by management, or, even worse, fired. With a family to feed at home, that’s too big of a risk for her to take.

Amirah is not the only worker who faces this problem. Individually, none of these women are comfortable confronting management and make demands – they don’t have much power individually. However when they come together as a group, management would be less likely and able to ignore their demands. Amirah and her colleagues approach the worker representative who was elected by the workers last year, who agrees to bring the issue to management. The ability to come together with her fellow workers to complain and demand better conditions collectively (because they have the right to freedom of association) gives Amirah and her colleagues more power.

The elected worker representative approaches management and asks for the topic to be discussed at the next worker-management meeting. The WR prepares her argument: she knows the local laws that dictate the rules of overtime, she has time sheets from the workers as well as their pay stubs, and she has calculated the amounts owing. With this information in hand, the worker representative engages in social dialogue with management where they are able to come to an agreement on how and when the workers will be paid the overtime hours they are owed.

This is a simplified example of how the process of social dialogue can work at the factory level, and in reality we know that the process is usually much more complex, fraught with conflict and takes a long time. A lot of Fair Wear’s work focuses on this: how can we make the path to social dialogue more straightforward and how can we and our member brands help to create an environment where social dialogue can happen productively.