Garment workers back at work, many unvaccinated

Garment workers back at work, many unvaccinated

They can’t afford private hospitals, and they aren’t getting time off to go stand in queues

About 80,000 people are employed at garment units in Bommanahalli and other areas along Hosur Road. Pic for representation

Yet-to-be-vaccinated workers at small and medium garment units are risking their lives by going to work every day.

They just can’t afford private hospitals, and are not getting time off to go to government primary health centres.

“While workers above 45 have successfully got the vaccine at most factories, those in the 18-44 age group are struggling,” says Swami T S, general secretary, Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU).

Shaziya, 22, has been asked to show up to work with a vaccination certificate by the end of the week.

“We are a small garment factory with 30-40 people, and our employers have not arranged for us to get vaccinated. So far only two workers have been able to get the vaccine, while the rest of us are still trying,” she says. 

Some workers are forming groups of four or five and going to the government health centres. “We can’t go to work because of the long queues. If we take a day off for vaccination, our bosses cut our pay,” says Deepashree, a factory worker.

In many cases, employers cut Rs 350-450 for every day of leave a worker takes.

Many workers Metrolife spoke to say they don’t get paid leave and benefits from their employers if they test positive for Covid-19. What they do get is a small amount from the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), and only if they are registered.

“Many workers are not a part of ESIC so they are left with nothing if they contract Covid,” adds Deepashree.

With salaries in the range of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000, and families to support, many garment workers can’t afford smartphones and Net connections, both of which are required to sign up for the vaccine. A month has passed since the Centre allowed walk-in registrations for the 18-44 age group, but priority is still given to people above 45 and those in vulnerable groups (such as diabetics).

The larger garment units say vaccination is in progress at a brisk pace. “About 60 per cent of our workers across all nine units in Bengaluru have received the first dose. By the end of July, we hope everyone will have received their first dose,” says a representative of a big apparel manufacturer and exporter. 

“It took some time to get the process started but more and more factories are getting their employees vaccinated,” says Rukmini, president of the Garment Labour Union, a group led by women.

She has received many complaints over the past week about workers being forced to work despite facing the side-effects of the vaccine.

“Many had to work despite feeling sick because of the side effects. This is another reason holding back many from going in for the vaccine,” she says.

Mahesh, 26, had gone back to his hometown Tirumakudalu Narasipura during the lockdown and returned recently when he was recalled by his employers. “Some of my colleagues who got back to work before me have received the vaccine. But, since last week, they have stopped the process at the factory. They say the vaccinations will resume soon,” he says.

Naseer Humayun, owner of Indian Designs and honorary regional secretary, Clothing Manufacturers Association of India, says 65 per cent of his workers have already been vaccinated with help from the BBMP.

“The process came to a halt last week because of a vaccine shortage, but we have  just received a call from the BBMP that Covaxin is now available,” he told Metrolife