Export Processing Zones (EPZs), globalisation, feminised labour markets and working conditions: A study of Sri Lankan EPZ workers
University of New South Wales
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Psychology and Social Science
This paper is based on AusAID-funded research that focused on Sri Lanka’s Export Processing Zones (EPZs). The aims of the research were to measure ways in which young women (who dominate the workforce in the nation’s EPZs) experience the dramatic shift to formal employment and associated experiences such as moving from their villages to work, living in boarding houses in large industrial areas and ‘managerialism’ associated with export-oriented manufacturing. Other aims of the research were to provide insights into how the women sampled were empowered or dis-empowered as a result of their employment and these findings are in the process of publication in other journals. The focus of this paper is on working conditions, harassment and abuse reported by the women sampled (n=901 or n=1571). Their responses raise questions about labour conditions in Sri Lanka and the sustainability of the participant’s employment due to long working hours and at times oppressive conditions. However, while issues of poor labour standards were significant in the data, so too was evidence of resilience and resistance to strong societal and managerial forces that worked against the predominantly young women. This paper provides insights into the complex and often misunderstood experiences of young women who work in EPZs.