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Govt part of garment workers’ woes

Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 19:48 IST
Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 19:48 IST

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An Alternative Law Forum (ALF) study has laid bare the insensitive treatment meted out to employees by owners of a garment factory in Bengaluru during the Covid-19 lockdown this year. Worse, the study reveals the Karnataka government’s complicity in the exploitation and ill-treatment of workers. The garment factory reportedly shut down without notifying its employees ahead as mandated by labour laws. The employers also sought to break the workers’ protests and prevented them from demonstrating at the factory site by filing an injunction in court. Although it was the owners who shut down the unit, they forced an estimated 1,000 workers to put in their papers so that they could pay them much-reduced compensation packages. Not only were workers’ rights systematically violated but also, employers displayed extreme deviousness in dealing with their employees. Worryingly, the state government’s conciliation official went along with the factory owners’ version of events and noted that workers had resigned or had accepted transfers to another workplace. Was it naivety on the part of the official? Did he get to hear the workers’ version of events? Were workers’ rights irrelevant to the official?

Workers in Karnataka’s garment industry have repeatedly complained of long hours, poor working conditions, non-payment of salary and compensation packages, etc. Their situation has been particularly difficult during the recent lockdown. Many garment factory owners refused to pay employees their wages. Since many of them are contract workers and paid by the hour, they were simply left to hang out to dry.

In a bid to revive the economy, the Karnataka government has extended incentives to the garment industry. It issued a notification allowing factories to increase work hours to 10 per day in order to boost production and profit. However, what has it done for the workers? Its overtures to the industry have not benefited workers much. The overwhelming majority of the roughly four-lakh-strong workforce in the garment industry comprises of women and many of them are unable to work longer hours as they have domestic chores to attend to as well. With its officials not empathising with the plight of workers in disputes with factory owners during the lockdown, the government is abdicating its responsibilities to a vulnerable section of the population. The ALF study has drawn attention not only to the exploitation of workers by the garment industry but also to the flawed functioning of the state labour department. These must be rectified now.

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Published 04 January 2021, 19:31 IST

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