Stir highlights low-pay, insecure jobs of garment workers

Stir highlights low-pay, insecure jobs of garment workers

Stir highlights low-pay, insecure jobs of garment workers
The protest against new provident fund withdrawal rules brings into focus the low salaries and job insecurity of lakhs of garment workers in Bengaluru.

Not only are the workers paid poorly, but they also risk losing their jobs as garment factories often shut down operations. An average worker earns just Rs 6,000-Rs 7,000 per month with no benefits other than provident fund, Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) and gratuity.

Under provident fund, an employee contributes 12% of their basic salary and the employer matches it. Out of the employer’s contribution of 12%, 8.33% is locked up in the Employees’ Pension Scheme. The existing rules allow withdrawal of the remaining 3.67% if an employee remains jobless for two months. The new rules propose locking up this 3.67% until retirement. With garment workers poorly paid, lack of access to 3.67% of employer’s contribution means a great deal to them.

Radha M, a garment worker in Peenya, articulated as much. “Most of the employees are women who work in deplorable conditions, do not have enough leaves and have to toil very hard. Many of us are not on the payroll and work like labourers.”

She said her present employer, whom she did not want to name, was the fifth firm she had worked for. Two firms closed down because of losses while she worked part-time in two previous firms at a low salary.

V J K Nair, a leader of garment workers’ union, said most of the women workers were young and yet to marry. They earn to save for their marriage as they cannot depend on their parents. “All that they have in the name of savings is the provident fund. Withholding this amount means snatching their livelihood,” he said. He said that no employee was retained for more than four years. Retaining a worker for five years means the employer has to pay the gratuity, he added.

Jayaram Gatwu, another union leader, blamed the Central government for forcing the workers to protest. “The decision of withholding the employers’ contribution till the employee attains 58 years of age was taken without taking the workers into confidence. Ironically, the new rule will come into effect on May 1, the day labour laws protecting the rights of working class were enforced.”

He said that the new provident fund withdrawal rules would affect all employees, but garment workers would be the worst-hit as they formed the unorganised sector within the organised sector.
According to Gatwu, there are about six lakh workers in Karnataka’s 1,200 garment factories with Bengaluru alone having 4.5 lakh people in about 900 factories.
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