Over 100 women workers demand minimum wages, social security and dignity at the workplace

Over 100 women working in the garment industry, and as domestic labourers and agricultural workers, gathered on Monday, demanding minimum wages, social security and dignity at the workplace.

The women, under the banner of the Penn Thozhilalargal Sangam, sought steps such as institution of a minimum wage for women engaged for domestic help and in garment factories, extension of ESI facilities to workers in the informal sector and enforcement of the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace.

Speaking at the protest, workers highlighted their difficult working conditions and the failure of authorities to implement steps to address their problems.

M. Nagomi, formerly employed at a garment factory, said she took up tailoring independently after working in eight companies in Nerkundram. “The situation was the same wherever I went. We were given strict quotas for attaching collars and sleeves to shirts and forced to work overtime without extra pay even if we fell short due the power cuts. We would not be allowed to take phone calls at work even in case of emergency,” she added. Nagomi now earns about Rs. 6,000 a month, almost double the amount she earned while working in the factories.

Many others, who work as domestic help in the city suburbs, complained of being paid a pittance despite having to work long hours. Padma, who has been working for nearly six hours a day in two houses for nearly 13 years, said that she was not paid more than Rs. 700 a month.

One of the main demands of the protesters was the institution of a minimum wage of Rs. 48 per hour for domestic labourers. Sujata Mody, president, Penn Thozhilalargal Sangam, said: “In 2007, domestic work was brought under the purview of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. However, despite recommendations by an advisory committee in 2009 and a decision to this effect at a State-level labour ministers’ meeting in 2012, such a minimum has not been notified.”

In regard to garment factories, a State government notification in 2004 to increase workers’ wages has not been implemented despite courts dismissing challenges to it, said Meghna Sukumar, organising secretary, Garment and Fashion Workers Union.

In addition to seeking a minimum wage of Rs. 10,000 per month for workers in garment factories, the protesters sought the setting up of ESI facilities in Chengalpattu and Thirukazhukundram. There are nearly 1.5 – 2 lakh garment workers in the city who get paid an average of Rs. 3,500 – Rs. 4,000 a month.

The women, who had gathered from Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts, also sought ration cards for single women, separated women and households headed by women.

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