Industries in Bangalore are outsourcing work to low-paid labour

The issues raised by workers in distant Manesar would seem familiar to industrial workers in Bangalore.

The city’s reputation as the outsourcing destination for the world’s work is well known, but the rapid increase in work outsourced by industrial units here is less appreciated.

“An uncertain job in which there is no protection of tenure breeds an environment that is hostile to trade unions,” says S. Prasannakumar, general secretary of the Karnataka State Committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

Take it or leave it

In the last two decades, labour’s position has been worsened by the rapid increase in the use of ‘contractual’ forms of labour by both public and private sector companies.

These contracts are mostly undefined, leaving the worker in a ‘take it or leave it’ situation.

The garment industry in Bangalore employs, according to one estimate, at least 3,00,000 workers — predominantly women.

The average monthly wage of a garment worker, employed for a 12-hour day, and with no secure tenure, is about Rs. 3,500.

The several public sector undertakings, which pioneered manufacturing activity and acted as ‘model’ employers, are increasingly outsourcing work.

Gangadhar Bhusthalimath, a union activist at Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL), says the public sector undertaking now employs about 4,500 workers at its Bangalore facility, half of whom are contract workers.

The number of workers on contract at BEL has doubled in the last five years, according to him.

Companies such as Bosch, which manufactures auto components, have adopted other means to reduce their wage bill. Bosch, which has two units in the city, employs on-job trainees, a category of workers that accounts for about 15 per cent of the company’s workforce.

Their wages are about one-seventh of what a permanent worker earns, says Mr. Prasannakumar. “These workers, recruited on the basis of a vague promise of permanent employment in the distant future, bear the burden of the vagaries of the recession-hit global economy,” he says.

The ‘innovative’ practices adopted by the private manufacturing companies not only outsource a greater proportion of work outside their own units, but also result in the ‘speeding up’ of work on the shop floor, says Mr. Prasannakumar.

Workflow concepts

Innovative workflow concepts, pioneered by the multinational automotive companies such as Toyota Kirloskar Motors, place a premium on ‘multi-skilling’, which requires workers to be adept at multitasking on the shop floor.

Return

Referring to the recent strikes over wages in auto sector multinationals Bosch and Volvo, Mr. Prasannakumar says the workers get only a small fraction of the increase in value addition they have contributed to.

“Resentment is building because workers realise they are being heavily short-changed.”