Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has called a meeting on June 18, 2018, with the garments and textile workers in the state, along with the managements of industries in the sector. The workers are fighting for the increase in the minimum wages. Newsclick spoke to Pratibha of Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) about the scheduled meeting. According to her, the workers are agitated and are angry, as, it is the duty of the government to decide the minimum wage, while government after government has ignored the demand for the increase in their minimum wages.
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Pratibha, however, pointed out that this is the first time in the last forty years when a chief minister is directly involved in these negotiations. Speaking about the call for the meeting by the CM, she said, the only question the Union has for the government is: “Why are we, the garment and textile workers, ignored?”
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 in the state met with the government to discuss this draft notification. They claimed that they would not be able to pay that high an amount. Without giving its ear to the workers, the government retracted the draft notification on March 24, 2018. The GATWU had decided to protest against this move of the government on April 17, 2018. Since the chosen date for the protest was too close to the state assembly elections and the moral code of conduct, the Union was not given the permission to go ahead with the protest.
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“Since it did not work out then, the union had decided to mobilise and protest on May 30, 2018. Due to the pending elections, they were denied permission again. The protest was supposed to be today, i.e. on June 14, 2018. The call for protest was given by the workers and the unions of four industries. They also had submitted a letter to the CM for a dialogue with him about the minimum wages. They were called for a meeting with the CM on June 12, 2018 and as mentioned earlier, it is decided that the Union representatives will be meeting the management on June 18, 2018,” informed Pratibha.
She said, “The chief minister, along with the Labour Minister Venkataramanappa, Labour Secretary- Amlan Adiya Biswas, Labour Commissioner Ms.Chaitra, met the Union leaders from Maddur, Srirangapatna, Ramanagara and Bengaluru. The representatives of the GATWU were accompanied by Matiri from AICCTU and Satyanand Mukund from AITUC.’’
The Union and the workers have put forward three demands in front of the CM. She explained, “Firstly, we brought to his notice the retraction of the final notification of the revised minimum wages issued to the workers of textile industry, spinning industry and printing and dyeing industry. We demand that he looks into the question of minimum wages that we have been fighting for. Secondly, during the strikes against the revision of Provident Funds by the Centre in 2016, the police had slapped cases against many workers. We demand that the government retract these cases. Thirdly, according to the law, Consumer Price Index points need to be calculated every six months and Dearness Allowance has to be released. In Delhi, for example, the DA is raised twice a year. In Karnataka, however, it is done only once a year. We demand that it should be done twice a year like elsewhere it is in the country.”
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Along with presenting these three demands, the representatives of the GATWU also mentioned the role of Shahi exports, Raymonds and Arvind Ltd in the retraction of the draft notification issued by the former government. Pratibha also said that there are about 150 employers in the state currently and all of them have turned to the powerful Shahi Exports to file an official statement against the draft notification that had increased the minimum wages.
It is this backdrop against which the CM has called a meeting with the employers and the workers. “However, 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? Actually, there is no need for all of this. All that the government has to do is, to stick with its mandates,” asserted Pratibha.
The insufficient wages plague one of the largest informal sectors in the state of Karnataka. The workers of this industry have been fighting for minimum wage and improvement in their working conditions. According to a government surveytwo years ago, there were 3.75 lakh workers and 857 factories. Now, there are more than 1,000 factories and 4-4.5 lakh workers working with the industry. Eighty per cent of the workers in the state are women, and 45 per cent of them are from the women-headed households.
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. They are scattered. But, the managements of the garment industry are all united. This makes them powerful players. They lobby with both the Central and the state governments. As Pratibha observes, this is also reflected in the attempt of the CM to have a dialogue with the employers to decide and increase the minimum wages of the workers.
Pratibha added, “We are fighting for the minimum wages. The current figures promised are the result of the 5threvision of the minimum wages in last 40 years. We faced the same issue in the last four revisions too. The managements interfered in the government’s decision and ensured that the wages were not increased. This is the pattern. There will be notification issued and within a month or so, with no appropriate reason, the notifications are retracted. If they do not pay minimum wages for a month the profit that these industries make is anywhere around Rs 160 crores. This obviously is in the interest of the managements – to make profits. What does this pattern tell? It is the management and government lobby.”
Since the workers are united now, she said, this lobby cannot stand for a long time and the GATWU is hopeful that the meeting will yield results in interest of the workers; however, if this does not happen, she said, “We will get back to fight, struggle and protesting.”