“Any pawnbroker in Hegganahalli will tell you how we make ends meet.” This cryptic one-liner from Jayasheela, who worked at Konega International Pvt. Ltd. as a button operator until it closed without notice on October 7, sums up the condition of the 900 workers of the garment factory.
Jayasheela was among the 50-odd workers who were on Wednesday morning sitting in front of the gate of the factory which has stayed shut despite the Government declaring the lockout illegal.
When the workers sought the help of the police to open the factory, they were told that they could break in on their own if they wanted to.
“If any machine goes missing from the factory, we will be held responsible. We have enough troubles as it is,” said Mala R.
So they have stayed put in front of the factory in Karim Sab Layout near Hegganahalli in Peenya II Stage.
Every woman worker there had a tragic tale to tell of unpaid school fees and house rent. Some face abuse from their husbands for not bringing home their share of salary for four months. After selling and pawning all their valuables, the workers as a last resort were on Wednesday filling out forms to seek a loan from their Provident Fund.
Over the last two months, the workers have knocked on every door to get what is due to them: from the local MLA to the Chief Minister. They have held dharnas and hunger strikes in front of the Labour Commissioner’s Office and the Labour Minister’s house.
Yet, it has been impossible to get their salary dues for four months, bonus arrears and other service benefits that are their basic right. The police claim that the Mumbai-based factory owner is untraceable.
“When we met the Chief Minister, he asked what the Government could do if the employer is untraceable. Is not such a response an insult to his position?” asked a livid Usha.
Geetha, a tailor, said that about 300 workers were paid two months’ salary against resignation letters by the owner of the building even as the factory owner was not on the scene. “They were made to sign on blank papers and told not to press for other demands,” alleged Ravi R., who was working as Assistant Pattern Master.
Hardly of help
The Labour Department has been able to do little to help workers. Deputy Labour Commissioner Sreenivas T. told The Hindu that the case has been referred to the labour court.
“Since the illegal lock-out has been prohibited by the Government, the union can now apply for prosecution,” he said. There has been no official communication between the management and the Labour Department with the former not turning up for the negotiations.
As the process threatens to drag on, some workers have given up while a few are hanging on to a faint thread of hope that they will get their dues.