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AP: Garment Workers Face Low Wage, High Production Targets

Gokul GK |
Around 2,000 workers from Shahi Exports factory held a 5-day protest in May demanding higher wages and said they were given assurances that have not been fulfilled yet.
shahi export

Representational use only.Image Source: Twitter SyedsarwarImam2

In the face of a large debt, an unfinished house and two school-going kids, Sudha, a 26-year-old garment worker is thinking of quitting her job. She started her career as a tailor in the Shahi Exports factory in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh in 2018. “For the past three years, only production targets have been increasing while the wages have remained stagnant,” said Sudha.

She has to stitch around 80 to 100 garments in an hour, which is more than 600 pieces a day. But even with these high production targets, the company has refused to increase the wages. After provident fund (PF) and Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESI) deduction, she receives around Rs 8,600 a month.

But it is not just Sudha who has raised concerns about the low wage and the unrealistic production targets. On May 9, 2022, around 2,000 workers from the Shahi Exports factory protested outside the factory demanding higher wages. The company’s refusal to increase the wage comes at a time when India is going through high inflation. According to go data, the annual inflation rate in India increased to 6.01% in June 2022.

“We pay out of our pocket for commuting to the factory and back. With fuel prices increasing, it has become almost impossible to afford. I spent around Rs 800 a month on auto travel, which would be packed with 11 to 12 people,” a worker who participated in the protest said. In order to compensate for the lack of increment in the last three years, the workers demanded an increase in wages by at least Rs 3,000.

Even though a hike in wages was the primary demand of the protest, the workers also raised issues like verbal harassment from managers and lack of proper breaks. “The supervisors shout at us if we are unable to meet the production targets. Some even use very foul language, it is humiliating,” says Lekshmi, a 28-year-old tailor working at the factory. “I have seen workers crying as they get shouted at,” she adds.

The workers also claimed that they have been instructed to not talk to each other even to those in the same production line during work hours. The workers get a 30-minute lunch break which they often miss due to high production targets. Another demand of the workers was cleaner toilets.  “There are only three toilets, two for women and one for men, in the factory which is always crowded and often unclean.” says 22-year-old worker, Radha.

The protest lasted for five days and ended on May 13, with the management promising that they would address all the issues raised by the workers. The promise, however, remained only on paper.

The workers claim that the company has also started to retaliate by targeting workers who took part in the protests. “Torture for production has increased after the protest, and many workers are planning to quit and move to other factories,” said Lekshmi.

A fact-finding report published by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a global labour and social alliance, reports several violations including gender-based harassment and violence at the factory.

"The workers narrating about unfair labour practices and retaliation at the workplace is disheartening. We expect the Shahi Exports management to consider the grievances of workers and resolve them in cooperation with worker representatives," said Aman Khan, AFWA’s India Coordinator.

Harish, a machine operator who got into an accident in 2020 while cleaning a piece of equipment in the factory, said the management only provided first aid and did not approve his medical leave. “We are not paid sufficient wages. It is extremely difficult to manage expenses. The management should listen to our demands, the factory and management need our labour as much as we need the job,” he said.

Shahi, however, denied the allegations and called AFWA’s fact-finding report “absolutely incorrect.”

“The Wage Structure at the Unit followed is in total compliance with the Government of Andhra Pradesh Notification/s governing quantum and payment of Wages in the State, the company said, adding that the claims of wage disparity are completely false.”

The company statement in a mail to NewsClick said the Deputy Labour Commissioner from the State Labour Department visited the Unit on May 10, 2022, and after a thorough inspection of records and data, validated that Shahi Exports, Kuppam, is in compliance with the government order and convinced workers to resume work.”

*Names of workers have been changed to protect their privacy

The writer is an independent journalist who has worked with PARI, The News Minute, Asiaville and LiveWire

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