|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|7. Restructuring and retraining|
The restructuring process that has occurred in the Canadian garment industry has seen a decline in men's labour force participation and the downgrading of employment standards for the vast majority of women immigrant workers. Following the completion of my research, a report presented to Labour Canada made a number of recommendations to mitigate against the worst effects of industrial restructuring and technological change, especially related to health and safety and the reorganization of work (Gannagé, 1987). An earlier version of these recommendations was translated and sent to workers who had participated in the research project. The recommendations on skills training continue to be relevant for developing educational programmes for immigrant workers. Lifelong learning and paid on-the-job training are important to a democratic educational programme. So is accessibility: in the case of immigrant workers this means that such programmes need to consider the childcare and language needs of the workers, and the double day which most of them work.
Garment and textile unions are developing a united front to save jobs. Inter-union alliances and community coalitions will continue to extend their efforts to unorganized workplaces and to join forces across national boundaries to include workplaces that have relocated. The building of cross-border linkages has begun with union militants and feminist activists in the United States, Mexico and Canada organizing against NAFTA (Moody and McGinn, 1992).
At home, grass roots initiatives aimed at eliciting government support for retraining have encouraged new forms of labour-feminist cooperation. These initiatives have focused on lobbying governments at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Labour advocates in the New Democratic Party have been the focal point for union activities, both provincially, where the NDP was in power, and municipally, where NDP city councillors represent the fashion district. As the discussion below indicates, some of the planning has been initiated and implemented.
Short-term programmes include English as a Second Language and basic mathematics classes for immigrant women. Immigrant workers whose previous professional or trade skills are not recognized have been helped by community based programmes for visible minority women to receive accreditation. Long-term training could include paid educational leave, similar to the collective agreements of the Canadian Auto Workers, for workers who wish to pursue more advanced degrees or certifications or for workers whose training would directly benefit the employer (Gindin, 1991).
In the Spring of 1991, the FILC announced a Toronto Sews project using the City's new Fashion Incubator. This project involves a training facility with the latest state-of-the-art technology to provide technical support to young designers from Toronto fashion schools. In June 1991, David Sobel and Susan Meurer completed a consultant's report for the FILC in which they concluded that more hands-on training programmes in the workplace are needed, not only for designers and middle managers, but also for rank and file workers who wish to upgrade their skills without losing pay. In an unprecedented move, two major international unions in the industry, that were formerly rivals, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union and the ILGWU, have pooled their resources to share in the development of the Apparel and Textile Action Centre. They are pressuring manufacturers to take advantage of federal and provincial grants to provide paid hands-on training in the workplace.
In another development, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, in conjunction with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, have organized to protect immigrant women employed as homeworkers through a homeworkers' registry. They have targeted Canadian and multinational retailers in a labour-feminist coalition, established to lobby the provincial government to improve employment standards legislation for low-wage homeworkers.20 Training programmes with childcare facilities will be an important outcome of the provincial labour strategy.
The increase in factory closures signalled the need for the Workers' Information Action Centre, founded by the City of Toronto, to inform non-unionized employees of their legal rights under the provincial Employment Standards Act. The plight of non-unionized workers, employed under near sweat-shop conditions, was described in the Report of the Inquiry Into Garment Factory Closings. The inquiry, held by the BASIC Poverty Action Group with the assistance of the Woodgreen Community Centre in Toronto, included legal specialists, prominent journalists, municipal councillors and organizers from the labour movement to hear and publicize the testimony of workers employed at Lark Manufacturing, a contract shop in the East End of Toronto which was threatened with closure.