No choice but a stitch strictly in time

Falling career graph: Continuing to work in garment factories does not mean growth for most women, who may end up in a position lower than where they started. File Photo: K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Anywhere in Peenya industrial area, at around 6 p.m., an army of women march purposefully towards buses. They have just finished stitching miles of cloth into chic dresses, formal shirts and trendy jeans, and now, have to go home to make dinner for their families.

They are workers at the numerous contracted export garment manufacturing units that the area is known for. The Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) estimates that there are 5 lakh garment workers in Bangalore, of which nearly 3 lakh are in Peenya, working across 15,000 units.

“We won't be able to find, let alone buy, any of the international brands that we tailor for, in the shops around here,” says 35-year-old Anusuya, with a touch of pride and no irony at all. Wouldn't she love to dress her children up in clothes she made with her own hands? She is struck by the thought for a moment. Then, she asks, “Where is the time for all that?”


These women are not exactly empowered because they earn their own living. “How can I ask my husband to cook dinner? He does a strenuous job through the day, lifting heavy things,” says Rathna R., another garment worker. Both Rathna and Anusuya come from a village in Mandya district, where they had no land holdings.

They earn Rs. 200 a day as wages. “I migrated here at a time when daily wages in my village were Rs. 12 for women, and the wage of Rs. 35 in factories here seemed attractive,” Rathna says.

“Earning materially does not necessarily change domestic dynamics for a woman,” explains Supriya Roy Chowdhry, professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change. “They are financially independent if they are abandoned or widowed, that's about it.”

According to Suhasini Singh of Cividep, an organisation that works with garment workers, working women may, in fact, be more vulnerable at home. “They have to work late, and that is not always pre-scheduled. When they get home, they are questioned and are suspected of infidelity,” she says.

“One has to understand that they are handling very stressful jobs, taxing on the eye, demanding abnormal levels of productivity,” she says.


“Punctuality is essential for workers. But, when it comes to working overtime, they are asked to adjust. They do not get paid for overtime, or get lower pay,” says Mangala, of GATWU. “Conditions are better in other garment clusters, such as Tiruppur. But, these women here are less educated and come from rural backgrounds. So, they are treated with lesser regard.”

According to Ravi Kumar, director of operations at Indian Designs, an export garment manufacturer with a factory at Peenya, the bigger, better established factories play by the book. “We provide all facilities that would make life easier for our workers. Women make up 70 per cent of our total employee strength of 9,000, and 100 of them have risen to the rank of supervisor.”

He is surprised that Supriya's study found some garment workers moving to domestic work, as the pay was on a par and hours more flexible there. “Most women do consider factory work to be of higher status than domestic work, but then, they make decisions based on what works for them practically,” says Supriya.

Continuing in factories does not mean career growth for most women. In fact, they end up at a position lower than where they started. “Because my eyesight started failing and my hands weren't stable, I was given the job of a helper,” says 48-year-old Sharadhamma, who used to work in the fabrication sector before. “But, maybe, this is the only place I could have found work with no transferable skills,” she says.

Rathna finds the idea of her becoming a supervisor funny. “I have studied up to third standard, I can't speak English. How can I command respect over my line?” she asks.

This is a gap that Garment Sector Roundtable, a multi-stakeholder project including Meta-culture consulting, an organisation that helps resolve work place conflicts, industry representatives and labour policy makers, is trying to fix. “We have now designed a curriculum to train tailors, with high practical and graphical content, to address their educational backgrounds and improve their self-esteem so they can become supervisors and have a long-term career in the garment sector,” explains Beth Fascitelli of Metaculture.

“The factories have also been supportive of this, for they also suffer from competition and consequently high attrition among their employees,” she says.

“Attrition actually works for factories, which do not have to give workers a raise or gratuity if they quit periodically,” Mangala says. “It really works like an informal sector with adjustments between the floor managers and tailors.”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 7:34:18 AM |

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