BENGALURU: Just before lockdown, Sunitha was working overtime to meet the fast-fashion demands of European capitals. Now three months later, she is among the thousands of Karnataka’s garment employees who are left jobless. Known as the ‘Garment Capital of India’, Bengaluru alone which has more than 400 units, is seeing a closure and thousands of garment workers are losing their jobs. It is the largest garment manufacturing cluster and hosts several large-scale garment companies such as Shahi Exports, Laguna Clothing, Arvind Mills, Gokaldas Exports, Madura Garments, among others.
“Already, we have received about 900 complaints across the State about employees, mostly women, being sacked from jobs; intentionally not being provided transport, salaries paid 50 per cent and worse,” said Prathiba R, president of the Garments and Textile Workers Union. The impact of coronavirus on retail is staggering as the thousands of orders placed daily by Western retailers to supplier factories in the State have suddenly stopped. Factory owners face financial ruin, while livelihoods of thousands of garment workers hang by a thread.
“I have pawned my handicapped daughter’s mangalasutra as a last resort to run the family. Her husband has kidney issues and my daughter can’t work. I was the only one who used to earn nearly Rs 8,000 per month and some extra money to run the household. Today, I along with 300 others have been asked to lay off for the next one month and we know what this means. We will be jobless soon,” laments Mamatha Gowda, employee of a garment factory in Srirangapatna.
‘We don’t have any protection’
“There are unions, there is a law, they say we are protected. But we are just helpless garment workers with no protection from anyone,” said Poornima K, a contract tailor of an export firm.A survey by the Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade and the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru reported that 63% of workers in garment factories did not receive the April salaries. Of the rest, many were paid 30-50 % of their wages.
When the pandemic hit Europe and the US and more and more stores were closed, brands and retailers responded as they usually do: by pushing the risk down the supply chain.
“They did this by cancelling all orders placed before the crisis — some of which were already ready to be shipped. This meant that factories, which fronted the costs for fabric and labour, were often left without the money to pay their workers,” explained Dr K Selvaraju, Secretary General at The Southern India Mills Association (SIMA), body of south India’s entire textile value chain.
Selvaraju said: “Brands are expected to postpone orders in another six months and will initially demand smaller order quantities at very tight margins as a step to recover from the reduced sales in the previous weeks.” He said the textile industry lost about Rs 5,500 crore daily during the lockdown. Companies could also explore emerging product categories such as medical textiles and other textile items required for healthcare facilities.
The Confederation of Indian Textile Industry has written to the Indian Banks Association and sought measures, including extending moratorium on repayment of term loans until March 31, 2021. Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade plans to take a delegation to the CM seeking help.