An AICCTU team investigated the conditions of women workers in the tailoring industry in Ambattur and Karur. The team comprised State secretaries Comrades Mohan and Munusami in Ambattur, and State Council members Comrades Ramachandran, Chandrasekar, Paulraj, Ponnuthurai, Bhuvana along with party comrades in Karur. Later, the team plans to investigate the industry in Mahindra City and Tirupur for a comparative analysis. The findings of the investigation are below.
World apparel export, at a moderate rate of growth, is expected to reach US $640 bn by 2015. Of this India’s share will be US $18 bn according to Vision 2015 of Apparel Exports Promotion Council. From 2014 April to September, the garment exports of the country reached US $8.3 bn. This is an increase of 17.6% than that of the same period in the last fiscal year. Increasing labour cost in China and non-compliance of large number of factories in Bangladesh have provided India a big opportunity in view of its relative advantage, noted the AEPC Chairperson.
AEPC sets a target of 6% share from the present 2.8% share which means India’s share will be US $34 bn by 2015. For this, an additional 18,44,444 machines and 1.5 person for a machine i.e., 27 lakh workers are needed as estimated by AEPC. Such is going to be the huge size of workers in this industry in the days to come if everything goes as planned by AEPC.
It also recommends a 12-hour working day by amending Factories Act 1948 and exclusion of apparel sector from CLARA by amending it suitably. According to the AEPC Chairperson, the textile and apparel sector provides 3.3 crore direct and 5.5 crore indirect employment. Modi’s Make in India mantra definitely rings the wrong tunes for this section of workers.
The garment industry the world over is organized in a meticulously designed, unorganised manner and is the one that employs the cheap labour of women which is available in abundance. India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia are prominent exporters of garments and furnishings in Asia to Europe and USA. China leads in terms of wages paid for the workers and Bangladesh pays the lowest wages. Wages in India are the third lowest after Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Even the highest paid in this industry turn out to be the lowest paid in terms of cost of living in their countries. Wages in this industry reduce not only in relation to the rising cost of living but also in actual rates as we see in Karur which is a home furnishing cluster. The Workers’ Rights Consortium of the US conducted a study of the top 21 apparel exporting countries to the US and found that between 2001 and 2011 real wages for workers in this industry recorded a downtrend.
NCR, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu are some major centers of garment exports. Workers in this industry in these states get monthly wages from Rs.3,000 to Rs.9,000. Rs.3,000 to Rs.6,000 is the range of wages paid for the majority of the workers and wages above Rs.6,000 are only in exceptional cases.
In Tamilnadu, the tailoring industry was scheduled for minimum wages in 1994. But only in 2004 minimum wages were fixed and it was notified in 2005. Exporters went up to Supreme Court and got the minimum wages GO stayed. In June 2012 the stay was cleared and the 2004 wages came into force. With DA, it works out to Rs.4500 to Rs.5,000 for various categories in the industry. On 12.12.2013 the TN government released a draft notification revising minimum wages which works out to Rs.7,400 to Rs.7,900 with DA for various categories. Even this has not come in to force till date.
The wages fixed for the workers of the tailoring industry are less than the minimum wages fixed for the apprentices in the textiles industry in TN. Thus an apprentice will be paid more than the regular worker as per law. (Apprenticeship in textiles are basically bonded labor).
The wage revision has come at a time when we have started championing the demand of minimum wages of Rs.15,000 for any worker. While demanding an upward revision in the wages notified in the draft we have to demand immediate implementation of this revision at least, as the wages in this industry at present remain far lower than the one notified in the draft.
Garment exporters in Ambattur, Tirupur and Mahindra City employ workers in their factories and at least on paper they have to comply with the provisions of existing labour laws and minimum wage laws. In certain cases, the workers are paid more than the minimum wages. At the same time we cannot rule out the reality of workers being paid less than the minimum wages in these centers.
In Karur which is a major center of furnishing export with annual export of Rs.2,350 crores and employing 1 lakh workers, there is a system of job working through contractors who never employ permanent workers. These workers are not covered under Factories Act and thus cannot be covered by the Minimum Wages Act. The question of raising the demand of declaring the job working units as deemed factories under section 85 (1) of Factories Act also came up for discussion.
In this context we decided to look into the issues of workers at Karur who are not protected by the existing labour laws, as well as Ambattur where the labour laws are in force.
Ambattur was one of the major centers of garment exports till a few years back and around 70,000 workers were employed in this industry. Today, Ambattur is becoming an IT hub and garment industries have relocated to other areas. Some exporters have closed shops during the economic slowdown. We found that today there are 10,000 women workers in and around the Ambattur Industrial Estate who are paid between Rs.4,500 to Rs.6,000.
In terms of industry, export of home furnishings is the mainstay in Karur. There are 50 big companies and 518 micro and small enterprises. Of these there are 400 registered direct exporters but around 130 of them are regular exporters. A Tex Park operates in the outskirts of the town with 37 factories. 35 of them are involved in home furnishings. Around 5,000 workers are working in the Tex Park.
Production is organized in the most unorganized manner possible, so that the workers cannot categorise themselves as permanent or non-permanent. The garment factories, both big and small are termed as ‘shops’ in common parlance. This term, which is generally used to refer small grocery shops or tea shops or other petty shops, itself reduces the legal significance of the factory and thereby that of the worker.
Workers can be categorized under three broad categories: directly employed by the factories, workers in the job working units and ‘single machine’ workers. The team visited 3 prominent big factories to cover permanent workers, around 10 job working units to cover contract workers, a living area to cover single machine workers, and another area to cover small enterprises. The team also visited Tex Park and another area where majority workers of Tex Park are living. The team met workers of the big factories in the railway station, too, where they gather in large numbers.
The team also spoke to a CITU functionary who was organizing tailors. Except for 500 workers unionized by CITU, there is no unionization. 90 percent of the workforce is women.
All these workers are saying that they have taken loans from usurers and the interest itself takes a portion of their wages.
They are directly employed by the factories. They are paid between Rs.4,500 and Rs.6,000. A-Tex Home Collections has displayed a board in its factory premises advertising vacancies for checker where it has mentioned the monthly wages: Rs.4,300 to Rs.4,700! Rs.4,300 is less than the mandated minimum wage.
In a very few cases which may number around a 100 in the whole of Karur, workers are paid Rs.8,000. These are skilled workers, generally men, who are indispensible for the factories as they stitch the sample pieces. These sample pieces, among other factors, impress the buyers and decide the orders.
The team visited Parameswari Textiles, one of the big factories in Karur. The HR manager of the factory said there are 35 permanent workers in the factory. We were allowed to meet 5 tailors handpicked by the HR manager in his presence. They said they are ‘content’ with the wages, Rs.4,500, that they are getting now. HR manager said they are ‘under pressure’ to comply with the labour laws as the buyers are very strict about it. The team tried to meet workers of Asian Fabrics, another big factory. HR manager came to the gate and spoke to the team and refused to allow the team to meet the workers. He too said the factory is compliant with the laws.
Atlas Exports is the biggest factory in Karur which employs 2,000 workers. The team did not try to meet the workers inside the factory; but tried to meet them at the factory gate. One male worker, aged 55 with 13 years of service, said he is paid Rs.6,000 per month. He began with Rs.1,300.
Women workers who were entering the gate in large numbers had their stories of misery to share. But, by the time some workers were ready to talk, the HR manager of the company came to the gate and asked the team to come inside and speak to the workers. This was more than enough to prevent the workers from talking to the team. Those workers who spoke to the team said they are getting wages between Rs.4,500 to Rs.6,000.
A big factory in Karur means a strength of 300 to 2,000 workers. Parameswari textiles employs more than 700 workers, Asian Fabrics and Atlas Exports employs 2,000 to 3,000 workers. The exporters have not shown the contract workers working in the factory premises, in their books. The team was not allowed to visit the factories and talk to the workers in the Karur Tex Park. Workers were met at the bus stops after 6 in the evening. About wages, they also had the same story to tell.
Contract workers are employed inside the factories and in the job working units. The number of job working units could not be ascertained exactly as there are different views among the contractors themselves about the number ranging from 300 to 5,000. Each job working unit employs from 5 to 20 workers.
Workers of this category employed in the factories can call themselves that they are workers in this or that factory. But workers in the job working units cannot identify themselves as workers of a particular factory. The contractor takes work from many factories and the workers are paid on piece-rate basis.
Contract workers working inside the factory premises also are paid on a piece-rate basis. But they have a strict time schedule to follow. They work eight hours a day and earn something between Rs.120 to Rs.150 per day. Other than this, they are not entitled to any legal rights such as ESI or PF. Permanent workers are allowed to use the toilet only during the breaks. But these contract workers also restrict themselves from using the toilet, as they may lose some precious time if they go to the toilet which may result in a decrease in their wages.
Workers in the job working units are undergoing untold miseries. They have the freedom to come at any time and go at any time. This freedom has allowed the worker only to compete with herself. Thus a worker who worked for 8 hours today may try to work for 9 hours tomorrow; a worker who cleared 100 pieces in eight hours today may try to finish 150 pieces in 8 hours the next day. An average worker can earn Rs.150 per day. This may sometimes, in certain types of made-ups, go over to Rs.300. But, as they would not work throughout the year, we can say, their annual average wages hover around Rs.72,000, i.e., Rs.6,000 per month.
The wages are also disproportionate to the cost of the finished pieces. For example, a worker earns Rs.20 for stitching an apron which is sold for Rs.200+ in the market. Though the exporter pay for the fabric and bears other logistic costs, the workers’ wages are very low comparatively.
Job working units are on the wane as the contractors are not able to pay the increasing rent and electricity charges. There are a few cases of suicides by the contractors as they were not able to earn enough from the units. Many of them have relocated to areas out of the town and some have even moved to nearby districts.
The team spoke to a woman worker of age 74, who works in a job working unit. She said she can earn Rs.100 to Rs.150 a day that starts from 08.45 am to 5.45 pm. Her work day may continue if she has to finish a particular order. This wage is piece-rate based and it will fluctuate accordingly. Another women worker of age 24 said for the past 4 days she is working from 4 am to 8 pm, 16 hours, to earn a wage of Rs.240.
Workers in this category are only women. Women buy one or two machines, sit at home and are involved in production from the home. A machine costs Rs.18,000 and this money comes by loan from an usurer. Contractors come to their houses and deliver the material for stitching and take the finished materials back. The contractor gets work from many big and small companies and the workers do not have any idea of the company for which they are working. The workers pay for electricity and thread. If the worker can make Rs.150 a day, around Rs.30 will go for electricity and thread. Thus the exporter does not have to worry about a factory premises, electricity, transport, laws, compliance etc. On the other hand, the worker will take care of the household and at the same time work for the exporter. Here again, the worker’s control over her time, actually drives her to work for longer, more exploitative hours and produce more. It is estimated that there are 25,000 to 30,000 ‘single machines’ in Karur.
• Wages are coming down due to the competition among workers.
• Minimum wages fixed in 2004 and proposed in 2013 are extremely inadequate in relation to the living costs. It is also disproportionate to the cost of material they stitch.
• Though minimum wages are paid to permanent workers, their other working conditions are hostile for a decent working and living.
• Workers of job working units do not have any identity of workers. They are not protected by labour laws and are completely in the mercy of the labour market’s ups and downs.
• Part of the production is organized like the beedi industry. But there is no separate legislation or other legal benefits or protection that beedi workers have.
• Enumeration of job working units and ‘single machine’ workers.
• Minimum wages of Rs.15,000 for the workers of tailoring industry.
• Wages notified in the draft has to come in to force immediately.
• Job working units must be notified as deemed factories under section 85(1) of Factories Act, 1948.
• ‘Single Machine’ workers’ should not be harassed by the EB officials. Their rights must be safeguarded through suitable legislation.
Workers said: “It looks like a full stop has been put to our lives. We have nothing beyond these conditions. We are actually dying every day.”
“Tailors are the cursed.”
“What is there to say about us? Nobody will speak for us. There is no alternative. We have to suffer.”
“If we demand more wages we will lose our jobs. How will I take care of my children without this job?”