New Delhi: Karnataka’s garment industry employees, mostly women, gathered in front of the labour department on Thursday at 2 p.m, protesting the inordinate delay in fixing of minimum wages and alleging discrimination towards garment workers by the minimum wages committee that recommended extremely low rates.
The garment industry in Karnataka employs around 3.5-4 lakh workers, out of which 85% are female, who manufacture textiles for international brands and export them, thus earning substantial foreign exchange for the country.
This is not the first time that workers of the apparel industry- -- one of the largest employers in the state -- have protested against the abysmal minimum wages being paid to them.
In a press note, the Garments and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), which organised the protest, said: “the state’s female labour force amounting to lakhs, who are under the care of the government receive only minimum wages. Employers never pay more than minimum wages. Due to this, the minimum wages fixed by the government are very important for these labourers. The wages had to be revised once in every 3-5 years but have remained stagnant even after 6 years, this is the extent of apathy shown by the government towards female workers.
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On February 22, 2018, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in the state had issued a draft notification that promised an increase in wages from Rs 8,500 per month to Rs 12,250 per month. The managements of the garment industries met with the government to discuss this draft notification and claimed they would not be able to pay that ‘high’ an amount.
Without giving its ear to the workers, the then government retracted the draft notification on March 24, 2018. As a result, the workers are only earning Rs.7,000-8,000 a month.
“The female workers, who use their income to meet household needs, are unable to do so and are driven to skip at least one meal per day.” Nagu, a garment worker from Srirangapatna, who took part in the protest said, adding that "Politicians come to us only to seek votes. Where are they when we are seeking minimum wages?"
Out of 82 scheduled employments, for 73 of the categories the government of Karnataka had fixed scientifically calculated minimum wages at Rs. 11,557 for workers belonging to all types of businesses. However, as noted earlier, the then Congress-led state government had agreed and retracted its order succumbing to the pressure of the garment industry managements.
A case was filed in the Karnataka High Court, which in March 2019, ordered fixation of minimum wages within six months. Even after the mandated time, wages have not yet been fixed by the government.
The workers are now demanding that, like the government fixed wages for the 73 industries, garment workers should be covered as well. “Currently, in Karnataka all the workers, except garment workers have a monthly income of Rs.11,557, except for lakhs of garment workers who are entirely dependent on their minimum wages but are ignored by the government; causing us massive injustice,” read the GAWTU press note.
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It may be noted that garment owners are a very powerful lobby in the state. Government after government keeps involving them in discussions on minimum wages even thought this is not required.
Pratibha, the president of GAWTU, speaking to Newsclick had said earlier, “the involvement of the employers makes no sense. Because once the minimum wage has been fixed, it is the duty of the government to ensure that the workers get the wage. Why are the employers being brought into the picture along with the unions?”
As Newsclick has reported previously, Governments, since 1979, have turned a blind eye to the garment industry.
Karnataka has 76 industries with scheduled employments and none of their managements are united, as they are scatttered. But managements of the garment industry are united. They lobby with both the Central and the state governments. For example, former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy had called a meeting on June 18, 2018, with garments and textile workers, along with managements. Every decision regarding the garment sector in this largest informal sector in the state is taken with a nod of the managements.
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