The garment industry in Bangalore with about 1200 registered units employing over a half a million workforce and one of the biggest sources of exports in the country, but hardly is there any mention in the media on the living and working conditions of the workers who are the real makers of some of the top brand clothing in the world.
Earning anywhere between Rs. 3200 (around 50 Euro) to Rs. 4000 (around 65 Euro) a month, which is a pathetic sum especially given the sort of profits being made by the contracting company and the brand companies. This at the cost being borne by the worker who is being made a victim of both company and the pro – capitalist policy of the Govt. that have resulted in price rise of all essential commodities making the lives of these workers ever more miserable.
Comprising of mainly unskilled or semi skilled women workers and mostly hailing from rural, lower class – caste backgrounds, between the age group of 20 – 40 years, most of these workers are hardly aware of the benefits (which is piecemeal) that they are entitled, giving the company management and labor department a free hand in denying them their basic rights.
But the biggest problems that is faced by these workers is the lack of organised unions in every factory to fight for increasing wages and their basic rights as human beings. Although coming under the factories act, governed by minimum wages, covered by Employment State Insurance (ESI) scheme, most of the companies hardly adhere to these laws given the laxity in implementation by the Govt. and loopholes in the laws that allow the companies in denying the workers their benefits
A common practice followed by the company management is the denial of gratuity benefits and pension benefits after 5 yrs of employment by a worker in a company by asking the workers to rejoin as fresh employees and thus denying them this benefit. A second ploy used by the company is the non payment of Provident Fund to the concerned labor department and using this money to build as capital, while the workers remain seemingly unaware of this denial until the day of their resignation from the company. Another important right, concerns health care services covered by the ESI which continues to be a regularly denied unless by bribing the officials of the concerned department.
All these is besides the regular harassment faced by workers by their male supervisors to meet their production targets and most workers having to work overtime without compensation, working anywhere between 9 – 10 hrs a day. All these and lack of provisions of some of the basic amenities in many of these units such as drinking water facilities, proper rest time, inadequate lunch hours, toilet facilities. Work place sexual harassment, rampant domestic violence commonly witnessed in their homes, all of which has a general bearing in terms of deterioration of their health.
The picture may sound dismal, but garment workers are increasingly beginning to question the denial of their most basic rights. Given the low levels of information of the existing rights and provision, lack of fighting unions the majority of the workers in these special exploitation zones are either suffering the denial of rights silently or many a times are being “led” by a yellow unions or extortionist Mafia outfits.
It should be noted that in the recent times the Bangalore industrial seen has not witnessed any major victorious battles of working class, let alone the garment and textile workers. Many of the so called unions are NGO sponsored who basically take a “Industrial peace line” and thwart any attempt of radicalisation among the rank & file. These do-gooder NGO’s focus more on conflict management by “training” the leaders than building combative unions. Their approach to disputes with the management is to go to the ‘brand’ people than to fight and increase the class consciousness of the workers.
But all this is changing, the enthusiastic participation of the garment women workers belonging to GATWU and KGWU in 7th Sept.2010 General Strikes indicates the growing radicalisation among these low paid layers. At the same time given the crisis of the global economy and its impact on India, the stage will be set for a major conflict between capital and labor as was witnessed recently in the successful strike of the Bangladeshi garment workers.