Report cites ‘major labour abuses’ in textile sector

Though there are improvements in employment and labour conditions on the work floor and in workers’ hostels in textile mills and garment factories in the State, “major labour abuses continue to occur,” according to the latest report by non-government watchdogs.

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) published a report, ‘Captured by cotton’, in May 2011 on the exploitation of Dalit girls in the south Indian garment industry that produces for European and U.S. markets. Almost a year later, there was a report, ‘Maid in India’, that states a large number of girls are employed under schemes (mostly known as Sumangali scheme) where they work for long hours, including forced overtime, under unhealthy conditions.

‘Bonded [child] labour in the south Indian garment industry - an update of debate and action on the Sumangali scheme’ by SOMO and ICN in July 2012 focusses on issues such as improvements in the garment industry in the State and the increasing number of migrant workers employed in the units.

According to the update, the length of the contract period for workers in the textile units in Tirupur district is under discussion and in some factories it has been reduced to one year from three years. It is also found that boys and girls from other States come to work in the garment factories and spinning mills in Tamil Nadu.

During police raids in June and July, children from other parts of Tamil Nadu and from other States such as Rajasthan and Bihar, and aged below 14, were rescued from some of the spinning mills in Tirupur.

The update says SOMO and ICN apply ILO Conventions 138 and 182, which imply that all children up to at least 14 years should be able to attend full-time education and hazardous labour of children aged between 14 and 18 is prohibited.

An official of the Inspectorate of Factories told The Hindu that according to the Factories Act there is no prohibition on employment of adolescent workers aged between 15 and 18 in India with fitness certificate issued by the certifying surgeon of the Factories Department.

Instances of employment of migrant child workers, especially from the northern States, in textile units in and around Tirupur are almost nil and employment of adolescent workers is remote.

A. Aloysius, founder of Social Awareness and Voluntary Education, says the biggest recruitment now is from among those aged between 14 and 20 from other districts of Tamil Nadu and other States. They should get the minimum wages. The improvement seen in the sector is that tier-one export-oriented units have given up the Sumangali or similar schemes. They pay wages according to norms and respect freedom of movement of the workers. The areas of concern include the need for implementation of minimum wages for apprentice workers across the textile sector, accommodation facilities for the workers should be monitored by an external committee, and there should be improvement in freedom of movement for the workers.

S. Dinakaran, chairman of Southern India Mills’ Association, says the facilities in many of the mills here are better than those in countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand. The government should take action against those employing children and those not complying with labour laws. At least 20 per cent of the workers in the mills now are from other States.

They are given food and accommodation, either in the mill premises or outside.

The number of workers from other States will only increase in the future, he says.