The Karnataka government amended the labour laws this month, to allow for women to start working night shifts in the garment industry.

Improve womens safety before introducing night shift Bluru garment workers demandCourtesy: Garment Labour Union. The poster says 'Down with the government, they don't care about garment workers'
news Labour Thursday, November 28, 2019 - 16:21

The Garment Labour Union organised a protest on Wednesday evening at the Town Hall, to ask for better work conditions and pay, before the government makes a move towards ‘gender equality’ by introducing night shifts for female workers.

The Karnataka government amended the labour laws this month, to allow for women to start working night shifts in the garment industry.

The workers demand however, that the government consult with the stakeholders before they make changes that will affect lakhs of women workers in the city. They demand better safety measures, pay, and work conditions.

Women wake up at 6 am, feed and dress their children as they go to school, and do all the housework. After all that, they barely have time for breakfast before they rush off to work.

Rukmini, the President of the Garment Labour Union, says, “In a batch of up to 70 women, everyday, at least two women get dizzy and faint before they finish their shift. Women are so frightened to drink the water at work because it makes them sick, and also because if they get up and go to the toilet, they will not hit their targets, for which they get verbally abused and shamed.”

The targets are unnaturally high. They have to work on 120-150 pieces every hour, working on only one bit: the lower seam, or only the sleeve. The factory works out some calculation of the highest productivity, and then based on this, put this number as the minimum target that the women have to meet. This is without any consideration for fatigue or including any restroom breaks. It’s almost as if the factories treat their workers as part of the machinery.

If they don’t meet their targets, they are tortured, they say. Sexual and verbal harassment is rampant; but the women are afraid to speak out. They are afraid their family would force them to leave their jobs if they spoke out, which would leave them in a penniless state.

Rukmini, from the union says, “The government should fix these issues first! There is no facility for creches for young mothers, and the working hours are so long, that it’s scary for them to go back home late at night. Even if they have a driver facility, the drivers are often drunk and leave them far from their homes. They have to walk a long way on poorly lit roads and there’s no sense of security. If they come home late, their family starts asking them questions.”

Some workers, however, are dead against the night shift. Rajamma, one of the women attending the protest, said, “We don’t want to work at night because not everyone's husband is the same. My husband might ask me, are you going to work or are you going to someone else's house? What can we say to that? We’re afraid our husbands might get violent if they get suspicious (of infidelity).”

The women are also extremely unhappy with their pay, and demand at least a doubling of their wages. The average payment a garment worker makes every month is Rs 9,000. Rajamma added, “These people are so rich, they keep making money and buying land for new industries. On the other hand, we make nice clothes for the rest of the world, but It's been so long since we bought ourselves new clothes. My pay is too less, and I can barely afford the bare necessities. Will my husband buy me new clothes? He's poor too!” Her assertion was met with shouts of approval.

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