Slogging to keep home fires burning, women garment workers in a double bind

Fazlul Haque
মঙ্গলবার, মে ৩, ২০১৬
  • শেয়ার করুন

Desk Report : KP Rathnamma’s day starts around 4 am. She prepares food for her son and sends his off to work, before leaving for her work at a garment manufacturing factory on Mysuru Road. If Rathnamma, a resident of Hosakerehalli, gets even a minute late, she has to stand at the gate for an hour until her supervisor comes out, gives her a piece of mind and lets her in.


The tailor ends up skipping lunch or stays back after work hours till she meets the target for the day: around 100 pieces of apparel for international brands.

This has been Rathnamma’s life for last 23 years. And that of around 4 lakh other women working in garment factories for around Rs 7,000-8,000 per month.

In the 1970s, Bengaluru saw a boom in garment manufacturing industry.With increase in wages in Europe in the 80s, companies headed to South Asian countries like India, Bangla desh and Sri Lanka in search of cheap labour. Today , Ben galuru is the second largest exporter of garments in India after Gurgaon.

In the meantime, companies started recruiting more women so that they will have an obedient workforce and ensure good quality , says Prathibha, president of Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), a Mysuru Road-based union for garment workers in Karnataka.

GATWU says the industry employs over 5.5 lakh workers, out of which around 4 lakh (around 80-85%) are women in the age group of 20-40 years. Government records puts the total number at 3.5 lakh. According to government estimates, there are around 800-900 units in Bengaluru, Srirangapatna, Mysuru, Ramanagaram and Tumakuru, with 400500 employees each. GATWU, however, says there are around 1,500 units with over 1,000 employees each.

Following continued grievances of women workers in garment factories, Alternative Law Forum (ALF) and Vimochana in association of GATWU brought out a report in January on the harassments faced by these women – Production Torture. According to the report, supervisors even prohibit workers them from talking to others while at work. And if a worker fail to meet production target, she is insulted by supervisors. “Being scolded privately in the manager’s cabin is one thing and in front of everyone is another. Besides, they must not use abusive words,” says Rathnamma.

The report mentions women workers complaining about not getting enough toilet breaks. “If we exceed even two minutes, the manager would ask questions like, `are you giving birth in there?
Our lunch breaks are supposed to be for half an hour, but sometimes our supervisor makes us work for its first 20 minutes,” says Geetha R (name changed), working in the industry for four years.

According to the report, the most common kind of physical harassment is supervisors dragging the worker away from the workstation.

There are also report of sexual harassment with supervisors “invit ing the woman to go out for an outing… Constantly touchingdashing against a woman.”

According to GATWU, most women put up with all these problems because many of them are the sole bread winners for their families.

They are entitled to about 2% of the maximum retail price of an apparel they stitch, which is exported to the west. But forget these benefits, they are often even denied overtime payments. The report says many workers are forced to punch in their exit and get back to work, so that there’s no record. “When they demand overtime payment, they are told their payment was cut because of failing to meet targets,” says Pratibha.

It’s against this background that when they learnt about the Centre’s modification of PF rules that over 75,000 garment workers went on an impromptu strike in Bengaluru on April 18-19, bringing the city to a standstill. “When we learnt that we will no longer be able to withdraw the whole PF, we got scared and frustrated. We have tolerated verbal abuses, harassment and low salary only because we knew that the PF will solve our problems after three years of hard work. I have taken breaks between my service to avail myself of PF and later joined the same company,” says Rathnamma. “The protest happened because we were the last to know about it officially and we didn’t know who would hear our woes,” she added.

Rathna GM, a former garment worker and general secretary of GATWU, says, “They work only for the PF. They need to get married and take care of parents and children. How do they take care of all this in just Rs 7,000?” The Centre heard their grievances, but in the companies, the situation got worse. Shayla K, a garment worker in Maddur, says, “Verbal abuses have increased and rules have become stringent after the protest. They target those who they know are part of unions.”

 The companies that help them run their family are also making their life miserable. “I am not educated enough to find job elsewhere. My husband died a few years ago. I will stay put because this is all I know to do,” says Rathnamma. According to Pratibha, this is a cause of concern, “Most of these workers haven’t had education or studied till only class 5 or 6. They have minimum exposure to the outside world which makes them submissive and vulnerable.If they try to speak up, they will be thrown out of the company, “she said.

Top Comment

it’s funny how they refer to the real evil as “supervisors”. As if those men are some outer space creatures, while they are just the very “fellow Indians” mistreating the most vul…Read MoreSlowPro


 Being domestic help is better I was working in a company on Mysuru Road for five years. About two years ago, I quit that job and decided to take up work in houses for the same salary (Rs 7,000). The only difference is that I now have peace of mind. My employers give me festival bonus, clothes for my kids and even food. I work at the union part time and haven’t been so happier before.