BENGALURU: Just when things had started looking up for garment workers, a possible second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought back fears of income loss yet again. Garment workers, most of them women, were among the worst hit last year, as around two lakh of them lost their jobs, with garment units closing down and many laying off workers.
As per estimates, there are around 1,500 garment factories in the state, of which more than 900 are in Bengaluru. According to Labour Minister Shivaram Hebbar, in his reply to Tiptur MLA B C Nagesh in the Assembly, more than 2.85 lakh women were working in 983 garment units as of last year.
Many of the units shut down and the total number of women workers has now dropped to less than one lakh. He also said that cases have been booked against 239 people (owners) for not providing minimum wages to women employees. This apart, notices have been served to 396 garment units for not providing facilities to women employees as per rules.
Hebbar told The New Indian Express that the USA, the UAE and European countries are the major markets for the garment units in Karnataka, especially those in Bengaluru. “Ever since the pandemic hit, followed by a lockdown, they were not able to export garments. Also, they could not take up fresh orders as they did not have storage space. This has been a major issue. However, for the last couple of months, things are improving and they have started work,’’ he said.
Women find work, but not as regular staffers
Women constitute the largest workforce in garment units, working from 9 am to 5.30 pm for salaries ranging between Rs 8,500 and Rs 10,000 per month. “Their work includes right from cutting cloth to packaging and dispatching. At least 85 per cent are women, and a large number of them are from Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and other states,” says Rukmini, president of the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union.
According to activists, many of the workers who lost their jobs returned to their native villages where some are working under MNREGA. Those who stayed back in Bengaluru are doing odd jobs like housekeeping. “The situation started getting better since January and many factories are reopening. But they are not being hired as employees as the employers will have to provide salaries along with facilities like ESI, PF and gratuity. The women are now getting piece-work, where they get paid for stitching, but no other facilities are given,’’ Swati Shivanand, a researcher at Alternative Law Forum (ALF) pointed out.
The ALF, in association with Garment and Textile Workers’ Union, conducted a survey in Bengaluru on the status of women workers in garment factories in September last year and also in January this year, covering 23 factories where 20,000 people lost their jobs. Swati said that around 65 units in Bengaluru had shut down since April 2020. She said 50 per cent of the workers were forced to resign. This is because units having a certain number of workers have to provide mandated facilities to employees, and in order to avoid this, the units may have asked them to resign and reduced their staff strength, she reasoned.