GARMENT WORKERS TO CARRY OUT CAMPAIGN AND PROTEST AGAINST THE FAILURE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF KARNATAKA TO PROTECT THEIR INTEREST AND FAILING TO REVISE MINIMUM WAGES AS PER THE ORDER OF THE KARNATAKA HIGH COURT
Garments industry had wage revision in 2014 and even after 8 years since then there has been no wage revision. The law states that the minimum wage of the prescribed industries should be revised every 5 years. But the minimum wage revision in the garments industry is on an average every 9 years. Thus, the wages of garment workers are about 4 thousand less than the wage rates of other scheduled industries in Karnataka. Even in fixing the minimum wages, the government is doing injustice to the garment workers by following this discriminatory policy.
The Garments industry is a major industry in Karnataka employing about 4 lakh workers, 80% of whom are women. These workers face various forms of physical and mental harassment on a daily basis and are paid extremely low wages. Garment workers are paid only the minimum wages fixed by the government. According to the Minimum Wages Act, wages are to be revised every 3 to 5 years. However, in the last 43 years, the Government has taken an average of 9 years to revise the minimum wage for the garments industry, resulting in depriving workers of the minimum wages that is due to them. As a result of this, while the minimum wages of workers fixed for other scheduled industries in Karnataka such as Ceramic Tiles industry is around Rs. 18,176/-, the minimumwages fixed garment workers per month is only Rs. 10,441/-.
The Supreme Court in the case of Reptakos Brett has given the formula to be used for fixing the minimum wages. Based on that, if calculated at today’s rates, the minimum wages should be fixed at Rs. 28,200/-. Garment workers are forced to work today at merely 1/3rd of such amount.
The Supreme Court has held that when workers are forced to work for less than minimum wages, the same amounts to forced labour. When the Government has failed to revise minimum wages, it means that workers are working for less than minimum wages, and this is nothing but forced labour. Why is the Government of Karnataka forcing lakhs of women workers to work as forced labourers?
The Managements of the Garment industries have been vigorously lobbying with the government every time the minimum wage is to be revised. Unfortunately, the Government instead of protecting the interest of the lakhs of workers has been working on behalf of the Managements. While the Management of the Garment Industry makes profits in billions, workers are forced to work for less than the minimum wages, and the Government is supporting such exploitation.
Every time there is a revision of the minimum wage, the garment industry lobbies heavily to ensure that the minimum wage does not go up. The most recent example was in February 2018 when the government issued a draft order fixing the wages of the helper category at 445/- per day. However, this was withdrawn within a month due to the lobbying of the industry. This withdrawal was challenged before the Karnataka High Court and in February, 2020, the High Court ruled in favor of the workers and held that such withdrawal was illegal and directed the Government to complete the process of issuance of a final notification. Today also with Dearness Allowance the workers should have been receiving wages of atleast Rs. 14,000/-. Instead they are paid merely Rs. 10,441/-.
The Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) has been raising its voice since 2007 at the Government level, before the Court and with the International brands about the unjustness of the wages paid to garment workers. Garment workers have been taking forth their struggle for fair wages and dignified working conditions under the leadership of the GATWU.
The Governments and the Management of the Garment industry has created a situation where women workers are forced to struggle even for the fixation of proper minimum wages. Despite the Court directing the Government to ensure the revision of wages, the Government has failed to do so, perpetuating the injustice against garment workers
In this regard, GATWU is launching an agitation demanding for an increase in minimum wages to Garment Workers. As part of this campaign, GATWU will be distributing pamphlets, carrying out a postcard campaign, holding factory level meetings and protests as well as staging a massive protest by workers at Freedom Park.
–Pratibha R. President
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