In March, the court directed the Labour Department to issue fresh notification on minimum wages within three months

Nearly five months past the deadline set by the High Court of Karnataka to notify minimum wages for workers in the city’s vast and vital garment sector, the Labour Department is still in the process of forming a subcommittee to fix wages.

Workers in the largely unorganised garment sector, which employs an estimated 6 lakh people across the State — out of which an estimated 4.5 lakh work in around 1,400 units in Bangalore — have been waiting for a revision in minimum wages since 2009.

In 2009, the government in a draft notification set a minimum wage of a basic pay Rs. 96.20, which was, in a fresh notification in 2010, revised to Rs. 114.10 (including Dearness Allowance). Workers’ unions, however, claim the orders were never implemented, barring in a few large-sized export-oriented companies where employees take home between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 5,500 a month (for unskilled workers).

In March 2013, the High Court, responding to a public interest litigation petition filed by garment workers’ unions, quashed the 2010 notification and directed the government to “pass appropriate orders as expeditiously as possible, and in any event not later than three months from the date of receipt of copy of this order.”

The fact that nearly eight months later, the government is yet to issue a fresh notification shows that there is no government or political will to address workers’ concerns, said K.R. Jayaram, vice-president of the Garment and Textile Workers Unions (GATWU), the primary litigant in the High Court case. He added that not meeting the court deadline could also be interpreted as contempt of court.

Only on paper

The industry comprises many small and midsize companies, including vendors and fabricators who take up contracts from the industry biggies. In a majority of these small companies and among subcontractors, minimum wages just remain on paper, Mr. Jayaram said. The average wage in these small and midsize garment units ranges from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000, far below the prescribed minimum wage. A majority of those employed by the industry are women.

Mr. Jayaram said that since 1987, when the court ruled that minimum wages be fixed for the sector, wage revisions had happened only five times. This when the courts had also ruled that wage revisions should happen within a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years. He alleged that while garment workers were largely unorganised, managements were very organised and their lobbies powerful. It was ironical, he said, that while the garment sector employs as many in number as the IT industry in Bangalore, the plight of these workers simply goes unnoticed. The court had also ordered the government to “provide an opportunity to the petitioner unions” and to stakeholders. The GATWU maintains that it is yet to be called in for a consultation.

Department responds

A senior Labour Department official said the matter would be resolved within “one or two months.” The official said that a subcommittee had been constituted specifically to address the concerns of this sector. “We will be calling consultations and will issue a notification on this soon. Until that, the earlier notification will be followed. There was some mistake in the notification issued in 2010 and the court struck it down. We are looking into it as soon as we can.”

A representative of a midsize garment company in Bangalore, who did not wish to be named, emphasised that most exporters stick to minimum wage requirements. “The wage uncertainty is confined to the smaller companies, where the margins are also small. There may be issue with smaller contractors, but in the bigger companies, the monthly salary starts at Rs. 5,100 for unskilled workers and Rs. 6,000 for highly skilled workers, which is above the minimum wage.”

The GATWU has demanded that a minimum wage of Rs. 300 a day be fixed.

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