Export-processing zones (EPZs) may be defined as industrial zones with special incentives to attract foreign investment in which imported materials undergo a certain degree of processing before being exported again.
As global competition for jobs and foreign investment intensifies, EPZs have been proliferating worldwide. For the EPZ-operating countries, EPZs are a vital entry point into the global manufacturing economy, providing a valuable source of investment, employment and technological know-how. While EPZs are a major source of employment creation, labour relations and human resource development remain neglected areas.
The workforce in EPZs is mainly composed of women (up to 90 per cent) in the younger age groups, differing from country to country and between economic sectors. EPZs provide a significant opportunity for young women workers to enter the formal sector, but many get locked into low-skilled and low-wage jobs because of direct or indirect discrimination. The enterprises should therefore make special efforts to ensure that women workers are not discriminated against in terms of salary or access to training and promotion. They should enjoy maternity protection and be provided with maternity leave, employment security during pregnancy and maternity leave, and nursing breaks and facilities. Measures should be taken to help them combine work and family responsibilities (limitation of excessive working hours and night work, child-care facilities, etc.). Policies and procedures should be in place to prevent and deal with sexual harassment. Free, strong and representative workers' organizations have a major role to play in order to improve the working conditions in these zones.
→ see also Discrimination, Fundamental principles and rights at work, Globalization, Human resources development, Maternity protection, Migrant workers, Parental leave, Sexual harassment and Social security/social protection
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