For three weeks, over 1,300 garment workers have been protesting every single day in front of their factory in Srirangapatna. Earlier in June, they were informed that they no longer had their jobs as the factory was not getting orders from a foreign clothing brand they were catering to.
No sector appears to have escaped the impact of COVID-19. But for the nearly six lakh strong garment and textile workforce in Karnataka, of which a majority are women, a prolonged battle involving wages, workload and other labour benefits is now compounded by newer problems due to the pandemic.
Jayaram K.R., legal advisor, Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), said the case in Srirangapatna is not a one-off. “Some big companies have paid 70% of the workers, others only 50%. Some are paying staff only for the number of days they work, a few are not allowing people inside as they don’t want their services any more. Around 40% of six lakh garment and textile workers have lost jobs,” he alleged.
The union says though factories resumed work on May 4, no transport was available for workers. In June, around 50% of garment workers started reporting to work. “Some companies have kept tailors but let go of helpers. One big company has merged three of its smaller companies, leading to job losses,” Mr. Jayaram said.
Akkamma, who was working in a garment factory on Mysuru Road for 15 years, is now unemployed as the factory has closed down. “Company representatives told us that they were closing by March-end as they were incurring a loss. They didn't cheat us; they have given us our salaries. But I'm yet to get my PF.”
According to Akkama, their factory employed around 800 people. “I’m from a village in Tumakuru. I have five children. How do we survive in a city like Bengaluru without work? No one is willing to give us work, even as domestic help. We are planning to return to our village because we cannot afford to live here,” she said.
Rukmini V.P., president, Garment Labour Union, said workers are being told that companies expect to get orders after August. “Right now, there are layoffs or employees are being given work in batches. Companies are throwing up their hands and saying they are not getting orders as the UK and Europe markets have not opened. Smaller companies too don’t have work. The problem is acute in Bengaluru. We are estimating that 40% have lost work. Many were paid for a few days of work in May. How are they supposed to manage rent, ration, bus charges, etc.?'”
She also said that the Labour Department had categorically told them that they had received no directions from the government about relief for garment workers and that the unions would have to take it up with the Labour Minister.
Labour Department officials were unavailable for comments.