Equal Pay | Miss Micro

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Cartoons by Cath Jackson
Feminists believe that equal pay must be given for work of equal value.

. This means that where the same jobs are done by both sexes, women should receive equal pay or a proportion of equal pay if they work pad-time.

. Where men and women are in different occupations, women should be paid at rates comparable to those of men in jobs requiring equivalent skills.

. Housework should be recognised to be work of economics as well as social value. It should be treated as a social responsibility and either paid for at market rates or shared equally between men and women.

. The social distinction between ‘men's works and ‘women's work’ should be abolished.


The domestification of women: discrimination in developing societies Barbara Rogers (Ta vistock Publications)

Hidden in the household: women’s domestic labour under capitalism, Bonnie Fox (ed) (The Women’s Press, Canada)

The Politics of Housework Ellen Ma/as (ed) (Allison and Busby)

Typical Girls? Young women from school to the job market Christine Griffin (Routlege and Kegan Paul)

Close to home: a materialist analysis of women’s oppression Christine Deiphy (Hutchinson)

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Gender and Development Unit
Oxfam, 274 Banbury Rd, Oxford 0X2 7DU. Tel. (0865) 56777
This unit has been set up to monitor sexism in development projects: it will try to ensure that women receive equal pay for work of equal value.

Women and Development Network of Australia
71 Gertrude St Fitzroy 30066, Vic. Tel. (03) 417 1038
Produces a quarterly newsletter as well as lobbying for a kminist perspective in aid and development

Women’s Resource Centre
P.O. Box 5424. Dunedin, New Zealand
Collects and disseminates information on a wide variety of women is issues.

MATCH International Centre
401-171 Napean St. Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0B4
A development agency that supports women’s projects in the Third World.

Working Women’s Centre
A.C.T.U. House, 393 Swanston St Melbourne 3000, Vic. Tel. (03)6635266
and Liverpool House, 49 Flinders St Adelaide 5000, SA. Tel. (08) 224 0188
Gives help and advice on a wide range of problems, including discrimination in pay. employment conditions and training. Also has a register of women in non-traditional occupa dons available as speakers.

Women Australia
320 St Kilda Rd. St Kilda 3182, Victoria
A biamonthly magazine which is committed to networking and sharing for executive, entrepreneurial and professional women. Run career development seminars for women.

Miss Micro
Rachael Grossman
explains why beauty contests
are held in electronics factories in Malaysia, and shows
why personnel managers are so interested in femininity.

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`I test around 3,500 chips a day.’

‘I started working at Fairchild in January 1978. They put me in the optical test section where I have to look through a microscope to test the chips before they are bonded. It took me two weeks to get used to using the microscope.

When I first came last year, they paid me 80 cents a day. After the three-month training period it rose to 92 cents. Now I get one dollar a day.

After the training period they set my quota at 15 trays a day. Now I have to test 25 trays a day. I think there are between 160 - 180 chips in each tray, so I test around 3,500 chips a day.

I get up at five and take the bus to work. The shift starts at six and goes until two in the afternoon. They don’t let us talk during work, but we can talk during our breaks. We have a ten-minutes tea break at eight and a 15-minute lunch break at 9:15 in the morning.

After six months I became sick with red-eye (conjunctivitis). I don’t know why this happened. Other friends at work got sick too. The supervisor told me to clean my microscope so nobody else would get it. Then he gave me a two-week medical leave. While I was at home, my family all got red-eye too.

I don’t earn enough to give my mother much, but I give her food money sometimes. I like to buy my brothers and sister baska (noodle soup sold by street vendors). It costs ten cents a bowl, so if I buy it for all of us, it costs my whole day’s salary.'

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We hire girls because they have less energy, are more disciplined, and are easier to control Personnel Officer, Intel Corporation. Penang, Malaysia.

The personnel officer of the Intel plant in Penang showed me the charts hanging beside each operator’s chair, to record the quantity and quality of her daily production. She was a very likable Malay woman in her late 20s, and spoke casually. But her message was brutally clear. There is a direct relationship between her ability to involve and motivate ‘her girls’ and the numbers of silicon chips that appear on their productivity charts.

Beauty contests are the most dramatic example of the way electronics factories manipulate traditional concepts of femininity and gender roles. ‘The last beauty contest winner spent $40 on her evening gown. But she made so many slits up the skirt to show more leg, you know that .she can’t wear the dress anymore.’ The personnel officer was very matter of fact about the extravagance, which she saw as an example of how seriously the workers take participation in the beauty contest.

This year’s beauty contest winners will receive: first prize, a package tour to Medan (the nearest big city): second prize, a cassette player: and third prize, a night for two at the Rasa Sayang (the ritziest hotel in Penang). When asked about the implications of offering a night for two to 18-year-old Malay women, primarily from rural Muslim backgrounds, the officer quipped: ‘We tell the winner, "This is your prize. Whatever happens nine months from now, we aren’t responsible".’

One American plant manager in Penang explained: ‘We’ve developed recreation to a technique. Recreational activities keeps job turnover down. We spend $100,000 a year on personnel activities.’ The plant employs 1,400 people, 90 per cent of whom are women.

Much of the organized recreation takes the form of competition, which is intended, in the words of one personnel officer, to ‘develop incentive and motivation’. Competitions also pit workers against one another, strengthening their sense of individualism and their willingness to work hard.

Production competitions, billed as ‘fun’, barely mask speed-ups of the assembly line and provide the rationale for increasing production quotas. They range from contests based on the individual daily charts hanging beside each worker to competitions between subsidiaries in different countries.

In the transition from beauty contests to production competitions, the guiding principle behind all the clever games becomes suddenly visible: control.

Because they must keep productivity high and costs low, electronics firms have developed a whole battery of methods to manipulate and control the women who work in their plants. Their personnel policies combine authoritarian discipline with the most sophisticated human relations techniques. Most highly developed in Malaysia, these techniques specifically’ exploit the traditionally-defined attributes of femininity - passivity’, submissiveness, sentimentality, sexual desirability - within a factory’ lifestyle which is visibly different from the rest of the population.

So although the sudden concentration of women in the advanced industrial enclaves might have been expected to foster the emergence of strong feminist consciousness, the management’s policies work against this.

In Malaysia, factories rotate shifts every two weeks. ‘They like rotating shifts. They plan their lives around the rotation’, explained a personnel officer at Monolithic Memories Incorporated. Yet the workers complained that changing shifts every two weeks meant they could not plan activities or enrol in classes outside the factory, and they found it hard to readjust their sleeping and eating habits.

As most of the electronics workers have not held any other industrial job, and many of them are the first female members of their families to hold such jobs, they are particularly susceptible to the appeal of the Western culture which is offered as part of the personnel package. As a result, electronics workers are conspicuous wherever they go, identified by their elaborate makeup. tight jeans and high heels.

Elaborate make-up is part of the electronics image in Malaysia. and the factories even provide classes in how to apply it. All this allows the workers to feel they are part of a global culture which includes the choice between Avon and Mary Quant products, posters of John Travolta and Farah Fawcett-Majors by their beds and the music from Saturday night Fever played on the factory Muzak system.

While they seek to become part of global culture by consuming its products, Asian electronics workers in fact share much more than they know with their Californian co-workers. The Intel plant in Penang, Malaysia. is a subsidiary of one of the largest electronics firms based in northern California’s ‘Silicon Valley’.’ The workforce in both Penang and California is made up of roughly 90 per cent women. The Californian workers finish and test the products made in Malaysia, so starting a web of interdependence that reaches into most of the world’s economies and political processes.

In the face of a world-wide explosion of demand, workers in Asia and California are subject to many’ of the same conditions and problems, including job hazards, high production pressures, coercive discipline and human relations techniques aimed at preventing them organising. California executives regularly’ attend seminars on ‘How to make unions unnecessary", which simulate organizing drives, and discuss likely organizer personality’ types. It is in such management meetings that the personnel techniques are refined for use in California and export to Southeast Asia.

Despite these elaborate forms of control resistance is beginning. Regular reports of protests, sit-ins and work stoppages come from established factories in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Worker militancy in Hong Kong during the late 1960s discouraged further foreign investment for several years and may’ have been the catalyst in the decision of many electronics firms to locate new factories in other Asian countries.

Even in these newer factory locations, resistance is taking shape. In the Philippines, for example, workers in one US-owned plant are developing a union despite heavy’ government restrictions on all labour organizing. Workers regularly halt production for short periods to press demands in all Southeast Asian countries.

A major aspect of organised worker resistance - found in the Philippines, South Korea and Hong Kong as well as in California, is a growing awareness of the role that each country play’s in international production. This internationalism is summed up in the words of one woman who visited the Philippines:

‘The 11-day trip was over, but the sight and sound of the Philippines was embedded in my’ heart, The Hong Kong workers should learn from them, because generally’ speaking we were not so aware of fighting for power. This tour has helped me to identify my’ role.’

Parts of this article originally appeared in Radical America Vol 14 No. 1

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New Internationalist issue 150 magazine cover This article is from the August 1985 issue of New Internationalist.
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