Some of Britainís one million homeworkers are paid as little as 73 pence per hour and have almost no basic employment rights, according to a new report.
'Made at Home', a joint report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Oxfam and the National Group on Homeworking (NGH), said that employment rights for homeworkers should be improved.
The organisations would like to see the government implement the International Convention on Homework, the international labour standard set down by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The three are also calling on retailers to ensure that workersí rights are upheld throughout their supply chains - in the UK as well as internationally.
The report claims that for many women around the world who produce goods that are sold in Britain, homeworking means no minimum wage, no sick pay, no maternity leave, no redundancy pay, forced overtime and no health and safety checks.
However, it adds, the same is true of some British homeworkers who assemble Christmas crackers and sew buttons on clothes that are supplied to UK supermarkets and retailers.
Few homeworkers receive the minimum wage of £4.50 an hour, the report claimed, while two-thirds were refused paid holiday leave. Redundancy pay, maternity leave and health and safety checks were rare, and workers who complained were frequently dismissed.
In the case of one woman from Bradford, the pay she received for packing cards into boxes equated to 29 pence per hour.
The report found nine out of ten homeworkers are female and half come from other countries, mainly Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: "The main problem is that home-workers are often isolated, without the support of workmates or a union to speak up for them.
"Many are not 'employees' and so lack even the most basic employment rights including protection against unfair dismissal and maternity leave.
"Legally all homeworkers should be getting the minimum wage and holiday pay, but the reality is that many employers prey upon and exploit their vulnerable position for their own ends."
"The situation is made worse because the law covering homeworkers is unclear. If they complain, itís likely that their supply of work will stop without notice, so many homeworkers stay silent and abuses go unreported. Homeworkers should get the same employment rights as all other employees - their status as third class workers cannot be allowed to continue."
Linda Devereux from the National Group on Homeworking (NGH) added that homeworking is a convenient way of working for many people, especially if they have caring responsibilities.
"However the fact that these workers need these jobs to sustain a livelihood is not a license to exploit them. They work just as hard and as productively as their counterparts in factories - yet at present have fewer rights and get a poorer deal - that must change."