BANGALORE: With schools reopening in a few weeks, Veena (name changed), employed in a garment factory near Mysore Road, is a worried mother.
From the few thousands she will earn this month, she needs to buy stationery and uniforms for her two children in high school. This apart, she has grocery and travel expenses daily - all this to be met within `2,000.
“We live in a one-room kitchen and I pay around `4,000 as rent. My husband doesn’t work much. It is only when the children are sick do we buy medicines. For my husband and I, falling sick is not an option. Who has money for such a luxury?” she tells of her predicament.
The city has more than 5 lakh workers in garment factories. From April this year, they stand to receive `6,240 per month. From this amount, they can take home around `6,000. These wages are common for both tailors and helpers in the skilled category. Around 85 per cent of workers are women, with men occupying supervisory positions.
What Price to Pay?
According to Sudha (name changed), a garment worker for 23 years now, her earnings do not suffice to lead a “decent” life. “The government took just one night to increase the bus fares. Then why is it so difficult for them to increase our salaries?” she asks angrily.
Sudha earns `194 a day. Tell her about an increase of `58 in the daily wages and she smiles and asks, “Yes, I will get about `252 now per day. Does the government know how much it takes to live a decent life?”.
Both Veena and Sudha say they walk home after work. “Taking the bus is not an option. We try to save every rupee. Even that is sometimes not enough,” they explain.
‘Slaves’ for Hire
Veena says the workers in garment factories are treated like slaves. “I think twice before going to the bathroom during work hours. A minute away from the table translates into five shirts not completed. And the supervisor is quick to point this out in harsh words”, she narrates.
The one bottle of water she takes to work is remains half-filled when she gets home for want of time to take a sip.
Many workers allege that they are made to work more than the prescribed eight hours and are not paid for it.
“At around 5.30 pm they take away our punch cards and lock the doors. The records show that we have all left the factory, but we are inside working. This way, they don’t have to pay us extra”, Veena says.
No Room for Unions
Yashoda, a former garment worker and now the General Secretary of the Garment Labour Union, says the workers have nobody to take their problems to.
“Most factories don’t have unions. And the managements discourage workers from forming unions and joining existing unions. This gives supervisors the chance to exploit them”, she says.
Accusing the government of ignoring their pleas for better amenities, she seeks an answer, “They lay down the current wages according to the cost of living that existed more than 40 years ago. How can that be sufficient?”