TRADE TALK - ROSALIND MCLYMONT DEFENDING HOME WORK: YOUR "TYRANNY' MAY BE HER ENTREPRENEURIALISM

TRADE TALK - ROSALIND MCLYMONT DEFENDING HOME WORK: YOUR "TYRANNY' MAY BE HER ENTREPRENEURIALISM

Remember the tyranny of homework?

You couldn't go out to play or do the things you really wanted to do

because you were yoked to those assignments from school.Parents sided with the rulers of the classrooms. When your productivity fell, punishment was swift. You had no hearing, no arbitration nor mediation, no recourse to any tribunal whatsoever.

Even your grandmother - a court of last resort that usually found in your favor - joined in the tyranny.

So you bore your punishment, galled by a sneaking feeling that, indeed, it was for your own good.

In the world of global trade and industry, organized labor says, "home work" is just as tyrannical - so much so that the time has come for an international code of standards on home-based work.

Such a code would trample on the truest form of free and private enterprise.

HOME-BASED WORK MAKES A COMEBACK

Largely the domain of women - the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions says 90 percent of home workers are women - home work is common in labor-intensive export industries such as toys, carpets, clothes and shoes.

It often is a stepping stone for ownership of bigger enterprises.

Home-based work has made a comeback since the 1970s with the surge in global trade and the shift by overseas contractors to "production to order"

from "production for stock." While such work often is associated with preindustrial activity unique to developing countries, it has always existed in industrialized countries.

In fact, "teleworking," wherein millions of service-sector workers in developed countries ply their trade from home with the latest in telecommunications technology, is being heralded as the labor revolution of the 21st century.

Today, says the ICFTU, there are about 1 million home-based workers in Japan and more than 7 million in India. In the Philippines, 34 percent of the work force works at home.

In the United States alone, 9 million people work at home for their companies. By next year, says the ICFTU, these teleworkers will account for 10 percent of the U.S. working population.

Europe accounts for about 8 million teleworkers.

UNIONS THIRST FOR HOME WORKERS

Organized labor is seizing the explosion in home-based work to swell its numbers.

For a long time, unable to get its tentacles around these true entrepreneurs, the ICFTU fought to have home-based work outlawed. Battle-weary by 1988, it abandoned that struggle and began lobbying instead for international standards.

"At the dawn of the 21st century, this sudden expansion of home-based working represents a serious challenge for the trade unions," said Lois Stewart, head of the ICFTU's Equality Department.

"Low wages, long hours, no social protection or job security . . . women workers based at home are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of legal protection and their weak bargaining position. It's a situation that benefits unscrupulous employers who can hide behind the ever-expanding web of subcontractors," she wrote in an editorial in a June supplement to the ICFTU's publication Free Labour World.

It's "profits all the way" for the employers, Free Labour World thundered, a sweet deal with "minimal investment, no running costs, disregard for labor legislation."

The ICFTU railed against employers of teleworkers, charging them with using teleworking to lower wage costs by recruiting in low-wage areas domestically and internationally.

"Transmitting information is cheaper per kilometer in Southeast Asia, for example, than in the industrialized countries. This leads to a new form of social dumping in the service sector, similar to that already seen with industrial relocation, with companies rushing to relocate, thanks to telematics, to India, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe," it wrote in Free Labour World.

NEED + OPPORTUNITY = ENTERPRISE, ALWAYS

But the ranks of home-based workers keep swelling.

When need and opportunity meet face to face, the result is enterprise. Organized labor cannot stop that.

As with its academic counterpart (surely those of us who survived the ''tyranny" will now attest), the size of the payoff in home work depends on how the worker performs.

The tyrant, in the end, is the worker herself: She creates the environment, she sets the pace, she's the one with the dreams.

An international standards code for these workers is a call to inhibit the freedom of these workers to be entrepreneurial. The burden of implementing such a code would fall on the workers themselves - not the factory owners for whom these workers are dispensable.

It's like calling for international standards for the millions of street vendors worldwide.

It's just as selfish and futile.