Long-term Impact of the Debates

By Karen Kammeraat, WageIndicator projects manager

The WageIndicator debates are without exception well received by the organisations which coordinate them, as well as by the participants in the debates. The way they are organised result in a real open space, a mini- social dialogue where representatives of all parties (employees, employers, government, and media) can voice their opinion on a variety of labor issues. This is new in most countries, as usually such meetings  are dominated by big shots who give presentations to a passive audience.

From the debate reports and direct communications we knew already that the debate method and the open discussion had a positive effect and were experienced as eye openers. However, we also wanted to find out whether the debates had a longer-term effect. Do they contribute to changes in policy and practice? In order to find out questionnaires were sent out to all organisations participating in the Labor Rights for Women project, as the co-funder of this project was also interested in this long-term impact.

Two Types of Debates

WageIndicator developed two kinds of debates, i.e. the fact-finding debates and the awareness-raising debates. The first aims to find out what the real issues are on the work floor and typically involves around 15 participants. The awareness debates are meant to increase knowledge about a specific issue and hand solutions to a larger audience. About 80 to 100 people are generally present at such events, but in principle there is no limit set on the number of participants. The awareness debates are very often based on the outcomes of the fact-finding debates and can be seen as a campaign instrument, while the fact-finding debates provide input for campaigns. The questionnaire concerns both types of debates, since the involved organisations conducted both types (detailed instructions on how to organise a debate and how to prepare a report on the outcomes can be found on www.wageindicator.net).

Method of Impact Measurement

A list with questions was sent to all organisations in the countries where debates were conducted in the Labor Rights for Women (LRW) project. These countries are: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Mozambique also participates in the LRW-project, but did not organise debates and fully focused on its successful Mobile Judge program, which is regularly aired on a national tv-channel and therefore has tremendous outreach. Answers were received from Paraguay, Peru, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. This means a response of 73%.

We asked the organisations to rate the debates, 1 being the lowest figure and 10 highest. Most organisations rated the debates with a 10, Egypt with an 8 and Indonesia with a 7. Indonesia added that if they would have managed to involve government in the debates they would have given a 10. Most organisations said that they wanted to continue organising debates.

Results of the Impact Measurement

Below summaries are given of the answers per question posed in the questionnaire.

1. Did the debates contribute to an improved social dialogue with social partners (employers, government/labor inspectors)?

All organisations were affirmative. The word often used to describe the debates is ‘eye opener’. The participants realise which role they have and can play in order to ensure rights of workers are not violated. The way the debate is organised creates an open space where all parties are equal and everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion. This brings social partners closer to each other.

The team from Egypt did not manage to get representatives from social groups in one debate, so the debates did not contribute much to improved dialogue. Still the debates played an important part in raising awareness about labor law for all groups who did participate.

Kenya, Uganda and Indonesia emphasized the positive effects of the debates for workers. Thanks to the debates work issues were solved amicably between employers and workers, forestalling intervention of the industrial court. While in Africa labor inspectors often participated, this was not easy to arrange in Indonesia.

Parties in India, Paraguay and South Africa managed to achieve a better relationship with government as a result of the debates. Thanks to the debates it was easier to approach government with requests for better implementation of labor laws. In Paraguay meetings were set up between domestic workers and the Ministry of Women and Education. In South Africa government started to implement outreach campaigns in order to educate and inform communities. The South African National Economic Development Council and the Labor Council increased attention to gender issues in their programs and budgets.

2. Did the debates contribute to raised awareness among a large audience, beyond the debates?

This question was also answered positively. Media coverage of the debates played a large role. The teams from  Uganda, Indonesia, India and South Africa mentioned large coverage from local, regional and national newspapers, mostly not live. However, the media reports on the debates and their outcomes were successful in generating wider public attention.

Another way of raising awareness beyond the debates is by word of mouth. This was mentioned by the teams from Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Peru and India. In Kenya debate participants were enticed to share their new insights with their colleagues. This led to a significant increase of online queries on the Mywage website.

The third way of increasing awareness that was indicated by Uganda and India are the brochures and other related materials that are distributed at workplaces and during meetings and events.

In Indonesia awareness rallies with theatrical performances were organised in the street. This attracted a lot of attention from passersby and from the media as well.

The teams from Peru and Paraguay indicated that the strategy and work plan need to take into account the need to reach a wider audience, including campaigns. They also said that to reach large audiences it is good policy to seek partnerships with other civil society organisations in order to make a difference. This was also mentioned by South Africa.

3. Did the debates contribute to better compliance with existing labor laws and policies?

In Uganda and Kenya more employers are now complying with maternity laws. The Uganda-report adds that more employers are providing protective gear since they were informed through the debates that this is obligatory by law. In South Africa it was found that domestic workers are increasingly treated in accordance with the rules laid down in the labor laws.

In India districts set up local complaints committees where women can register their sexual harassment complaints. In Egypt contact was established with the National Complaint Department for Women in order to relay the feedback from the debates to that agency.

In Peru the team feels it is too early in the project still to expect such kind of impact. In Indonesia, due to lack of participation of employers and labor inspectors, compliance with laws did not improve much.

4. Did the debates contribute to the development of new and better labor laws and policies?

The majority of the organisations replied that it is too early still to expect such results. Indonesia adds that new and better laws have no priority as the laws and policies are actually good, so the focus must be on implementation.

In Uganda, the debates contributed to the development of new policies at workplaces. Some companies, for example in the flower industry, have instituted sexual harassment and occupational health & safety committees as a result.

In South Africa the debates raised the bar on maternity issues and created awareness among companies that policies need to include LGBTI rights.

Organisations mention that more worker awareness is a good start for raising voices against injustice.

5. Can you think of any other impact or effect that was generated thanks to the debates?

All reports mention that women are more informed and aware of their labor rights. They are increasingly advocating their rights, at the workplace, to government and at home where they advocate for a better division of household tasks as well.

The teams from Kenya, Uganda and Indonesia indicate that the debates resulted in increasing trade union membership for trade unions, especially women join. Indonesia adds that the debates changed the negative perception that workers had of trade unions (strikes and demonstrations). Now they see the positive role these can play in both a social dialogue and in collective bargaining agreements. More unions are now involved in CBA-processes, and more women are on the negotiating teams than before.

In India more women came to forefront and aimed at higher positions in trade unions and society in general.

In Uganda the trade union confederation created and improved relationships with companies, educational institutes, universities, civil society organisations and government. In Peru the division of work between the trade union federation, school principals and parents’ associations became more clear. The latter became aware they also have rights and started to organise themselves.

In Paraguay the radio station that was covering the debates continued to broadcast programs about women workers afterwards.

In South Africa there was increased attention for the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), especially for domestic workers and farm workers. The debates on LGBTI opened the minds of everyone about the specific issues for this group.

Kenya mentioned that the debates resulted in increased traffic on the Mywage and Africapay websites.

6. Did you integrate or are you planning to integrate the method or any of the outcomes of the debates in your core trade union work?

The teams from India, Uganda and South Africa plan to continue organising debates, Uganda with a focus on the need for setting a minimum wage. South Africa plans to organise debates, bringing government and communities together. The Indian team adds that debates are the best way to find out what the problems are and whether people are prepared to work on changing them. The Kenyan did not yet plan to continue organising debates but is certainly considering the option seriously.

The Paraguayan team will continue to organise young people working in schools.

The team from Uganda will continue to bring up sexual harassment and OSH in all workplaces, CBAs and union constitutions.

The South Africa team indicated that it will continue to share the findings of the debates in the unions and to use them as arguments in lobby activities.