Around 4,000 of the total 5,000 workers of the garments and textile workers of Himatsingka Linens, based in a special economic zone (SEZ) in Hassan district, Karnataka have quit their jobs. On July 23, the workers were protesting demanding their unpaid wages.
Speaking to NewsClick, Pratibha of Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) said, “Unlike what the mainstream media has been projecting, these protests were not only against a physical assault by the employer.”
When the protests at the site intensified, according to a report in The Hindu, the police resorted to lathi-charge and bursting teargas shells; it also opened fire in the air reportedly.
The Himatsingka Linens has units of integrated sheeting plant and spinning plant. As per GATWU, this is the largest spinning plant in the world that is being operated under a single roof. The company, GATWU notes, has invested Rs. 2,800 crore in Karnataka and Rs. 2,500 crore out of this has been invested in the unit in Hassan.
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Ninety per cent employees of this company – which is a beneficiary of all the government facilities under SEZ – are migrant workers. Most of the workers hail from Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These workers are not paid even the minimum wages and are reportedly subjected to physical assault. Now, when the workers have come together to protest the physical assault by employers and are demanding the minimum wage, the company is using police force to suppress their protest.
The garment and textile workers in the state have been struggling for an increase in the minimum wage. However, this struggle has been a bumpy ride. As Jaivir Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in a paper titled Labour Law and Special Economic Zones in India, notes, labour laws are excluded from the purview of Section 49 of the SEZ Act of 2005, an Act passed by the UPA government but rolled out by the NDA government of 2000, which empowers individual states to modify the SEZ Act and other related laws and regulations that enable the delivery of fiscal benefits envisioned by the SEZ policy. He further observes, “ In relation to labour, it is stated that such powers of modification are not applicable to ‘matters relating to trade unions, industrial and labour disputes, welfare of labour including conditions of work, provident funds, employers’ liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pensions and maternity benefits applicable in any Special Economic Zones.”
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As GAWTU said in its press note, Himatsingka Linens has a rich history of utilising this luxury of not falling under the purview of the labour laws that are applicable in case of non-SEZs. On February 22, 2018, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress-JD(U) government had issued a draft notification, which had revised the wage. The notification had promised an increase from Rs 8,500 to Rs 12,250. However, on March 24, 2018 the government withdrew this notification all of a sudden. GAWTU notes that this withdrawal came about following a meeting with management representatives of garment industries in the state with regard to this draft notification. Himatsinghka was one of the companies that actively participated in this regard.
Speaking to NewsClick, the protesting workers said that all of them have decided not to go back to work and have decided to leave Hassan in search for jobs. Under condition of anonymity, workers said, around 15 men were arrested at 12 pm yesterday and this had threatened the workers. The workers who had migrated from Tamil Nadu have all gone and the rest of them are looking for jobs in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and other cities.
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