For the last three weeks, women garment workers of Euro Clothing Company II (ECC II) in Srirangapatna town in Karnataka’s Mandya district have been protesting against the abrupt layoffs of over 1,300 workers from the factory. On Saturday, June 27, the protesters obstructed the management from shifting computers and other equipment from the factory.
The Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU) is leading the protest which has about 900 members from ECC II. GATWU members are saying that the management is now forcing the workers to submit resignations by threatening the workers that they will not get a job in any other garment factory if they continue to protest.
Already, 450 workers have submitted their resignations under pressure from the management, said Jayaram of GATWU. “About 75% of the women workers belong to Scheduled Caste communities and are poor. There are hundreds of women whose only source of income has been the work at the factory. They have no other choice but to continue the protest as their livelihood is under question,” he said.
The closed unit is one of the over 20 garment manufacturing units of Gokaldas Exports Ltd, Karnataka’s oldest apparels manufacturer company which has been a profit-making entity. The entity reported its total income at Rs 330.06 crore and a net profit of Rs 11.33 crore during financial year 2018-19.
Also read: Karnataka: 2nd Day of Garment Workers’ Protest as Gokaldas Exports Sticks to Decision of 1300 Lay-offs
ECC II has been mainly manufacturing for H&M (Hennes & Mauritz), the world’s second biggest clothing retailer. As the protests intensified, H&M in a statement has said that they are placing orders with the supplier. “The drop in customer demand due to COVID-19 will inevitably impact suppliers, however, we are placing orders with this supplier and we fully stand by our responsible purchasing practices. We are in dialogue with the supplier and the trade unions to resolve the conflict peacefully,” stated H&M on June 22 on Twitter.
We are fulfilling our payments in accordance with contracts, on time and at the originally agreed price. The conflict between supplier and trade union is about different interpretations of the law in India and we are in dialogue with both parties to help them reach an agreement.
— H&M Customer Service (@hm_custserv) June 23, 2020
While H&M has stated that they are in dialogue with the supplier and trade unions, GATWU leaders told NewsClick that no dialogue has been initiated so far.
The deputy labour commissioner of Karnataka is probing the unions complaint on illegal layoffs. In this matter, the management informed the deputy commissioner that “adverse circumstances prevailing in India and other countries and overseas buyers are cancelling their orders or withdrawing their orders and there is uncertainty about the market conditions,” as reasons for the lay-offs. But workers are arguing that the reasons given are patently false and that the layoffs were an attempt to target the union workers in ECCII.
“It is also necessary to state that the management apart from taking such an illegal step is also pressurising workers to resign from employment. Workers are being told everyday that they should resign, failing which they will be terminated without any settlement whatsoever and that the management would also make it impossible for them to find employment. The workers, who have resigned in this period, are also those who were coerced to resign and threatened with termination on failure to do so. It is thus clear that the action of the management in declaring such layoffs are completely mala fide,” wrote R Prathibha of GATWU, in a rejoinder to the deputy labour commissioner.