Apparel workers seek fair deal

Bengaluru is India’s No 1 producer and exporter of readymade attire. Women who slog away in garment factories are demanding wage arrears and better working conditions

About 2,000 garment workers took out a rally on Wednesday from Kanteerava Studio to TVS junction in Peenya, demanding fair wages, better working conditions and protection from sexual harassment at the workplace.

Garment workers took out a huge rally on May Day, demanding Rs 1,862 crore they say factories owe them.

About 2,000 workers, almost all women, turned up for the rally from Kanteerava Studio to TVS junction in Peenya. The area houses hundreds of garment factories, and is the hub of the business in Bengaluru.

The rally and public meeting highlighted poor wages and long working hours, and threw the focus on women who toil to create fashionable attire.

Most garment workers are between 18 and 45 years. They clock in eight to nine hours a day and are paid between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 a month.

Sujatha, with more than 10 years on the job, gets a salary of Rs 8,000, and finds it difficult to make ends meet. She says factories deny leave even when workers are ill.

“We are expected to reach targets, no matter what condition we are in. If we are unwell, we are still told to report for work. We are not allowed to leave unless we complete the day’s targets,” she explains. Sometimes, workers are asked to clock in extra hours but not paid overtime, she says.

The unions help workers air their problems. But those who sign up are under constant threat of losing their jobs, they say. Saritha, who joined a union four years ago, is often told she could lose her job if she raises workplace problems outside. “We are discouraged from joining unions because we get to know about the law and raise our voice against injustice. Those associated with the unions are harassed till they quit,” she says. A worker in a factory in Bommanahalli, who didn’t want to be identified for this story, recalls a colleague dying while on night shift. “It was hushed up and his family was told not to talk about it to anybody. No one knows what happened to him and where they disposed of the body. Such is the state of garment workers,” he says.

Dakshayini, with 15 years’ experience, says poor pay leaves workers with little motivation. “This is the only work we know. I don’t want to switch jobs at 40 as I will have to start from scratch,” she says.

Seniors who worked for 30 years are now supervisors, but the pay is not great. They take home less than Rs 15,000 for taking up multiple responsibilities. Lakshmamma and S Ratna, both senior supervisors, are also upset they are treated with no respect. 

“Newly appointed workers get paid better. Seniors like us are treated like trainees and questioned on our work,” says S Ratna.

Lakshmamma pitches in, “Our job is challenging as we have to train new staff and also make sure tasks are executed to perfection. The management constantly calls us and threatens to sack us. These are just some tactics they use to silence seniors.”

What are the demands?

Garment manufacturers must pay all workers a minimum wage of Rs 11,587. Supreme Court says competitiveness is no grounds to refuse minimum wage.

The Karnataka and Central governments must make garment sector pay up 2018-19 arrears amounting to Rs 1,862 crores.

MPs from Karnataka must push for Rs 18,000 as minimum wage for all workers in India. This includes anganwadi, Asha, sanitation, construction, and garment labourers.

City is fashion manufacturing capital of India

Bengaluru is the biggest producer of readymade apparel, with over 1,200 factories employing around 4.5 lakh workers.

The factories pay their workforce an average of just Rs 8,138 a month, including dearness allowance. The wages denied per worker per month is Rs 3,449, according to the unions. This means that each of the 4.5 lakh workers in Bengaluru (9 out 10 are women) are entitled for Rs 41,388 in arrears for a year.

What does a garment worker do?

They cut, sewingand embroider shirts, trousers, suits and other fashion attire.

They also make sure the garments are packed and dispatched properly. Senior garment workers train new recruits, and also take up supervisory work.

How arrears add up

Rukmini V P, president, Garment Labour Union, the garment factories owe workers a year of wage arrears: In February 2018, the government issued a directive that unskilled workers must be paid a minimum wage of about Rs 11,587. The owners lobbied and got it withdrawn. Nothing has been paid till now. They went to court, and so did the unions. According to our union, the court has directed that the arrears be paid with 6 per cent interest. That is how we have arrived at a figure of Rs 1.862 crore.’’

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