K'taka govt failed 1k garment workers during lockdown

Karnataka govt failed 1,000 garment workers during coronavirus lockdown, reveals study

Firm paid less, broke labour union and forced resignations, says the study

Representative image. Credit: DH Photo

The government’s failure to protect labour rights and enforce existing provisions left more than 1,000 workers at an illegally shuttered garment factory with no option but to resign, an independent study has found. 

The case study, ‘Laid off During the Pandemic’ by Swathi Shivanand of the Alternative Law Forum, found that the state government failed at multiple levels, starting from its complicity in keeping the wages low at Rs 7,000-Rs 8,000 per month, even as it offered incentives to companies. 

In May, the company decided to shut down without giving prior notification to employees as mandated by the Industrial Disputes Act. Over the course of the next two months, the company decided to break the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) and also tried to prevent them from protesting on the factory premises
by filing an injunction in the court. 

Government officials, however, failed to see through the company’s act of forcing workers to resign. On August 24, the conciliation officer recommended halting the proceedings citing “workers have resigned or transferred”. 

Only the employees who withstood the threats and sat on a 50-day protest demanding the reopening of the factory saw some success in terms of better compensation package by the company, whose illegalities remained unquestioned. 

For example, a worker with 10 years of service got Rs 1.76 lakh in place of Rs 72,727 she would have received had she resigned after pressure from the company. However, only about 500 of the 1,329 workers received the new package, while 23 opted for a
transfer to another factory owned by the company. 

The study urged the government to introduce counselling services in garment factories to make mental health care a priority and spread awareness on their rights. 

It also called for strengthening of the labour department, enabling inspections and examining legalities of factory closures besides upward revision of minimum wages to reflect the new uncertainties and risks taken by workers.