Representative image of garment workers
Representative image of garment workers

Increase in overtime and work shifts: Karnataka unions oppose proposed labour reforms

The draft policy proposes increase in overtime hours to 125 hours per quarter, and increase in shift timings as well as in the number of shifts for women employees.

Labour unions in Karnataka criticised the labour reforms proposed by the Karnataka government in the Draft Industrial Policy 2020-25. The draft policy, which TNM has accessed, proposes an increase in overtime working hours to 125 hours per quarter, and an increase in shift timings as well as in the number of shifts for women employees. 

Prathiba R, President of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), told TNM that the proposed changes will increase the burden on women workers employed in the garment industry in Karnataka.

“It will increase the burden on workers. The overtime in the (garment) industry is currently 48 hours over a period of 3 months and this is with the consent of workers. At the moment, the companies have already removed the concept of consent, increasing the overtime will add to the work done by the workers,” Pratibha said.   

The draft proposes increasing overtime working hours to 125 hours per quarter. At present, section 64 of the Factories Act, 1948 states that overtime hours should not exceed 50 hours per quarter. Section 65 of the Act states that overtime hours should not exceed 75 hours if the factory has a higher workload. However, while the draft proposes increasing the overtime hours it does not specify the pay scale for this.

The draft also suggests a change in the overtime work process. At present, procedure dictates that prior approval should be obtained from the Department of Factories for overtime hours done by employees. The changes proposed state that instead of prior approval, periodical submissions of overtime reports to the department will suffice.

Sathya Mukund, member of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), said that many companies are already skirting the process of obtaining prior approval. “The proposed changes will not make a big difference since many companies are currently making employees work overtime hours without prior approval requests submitted to the Department of Factories,” he said. Sathya has worked with unions in many factories in industrial areas on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

A senior official with the Labour department official told TNM that discussions are underway to determine the feasibility of making changes to the existing labour laws. “The department is in the process of carrying out a feasibility report to determine what changes can be made to the existing labour laws. The idea is to amend the Factories Act and also bring in amendments for contract workers. We cannot reveal what we’re looking at at this point,” the official said.

Responding to the proposed increase in overtime working hours, the official maintained that such reforms were necessary to bring investment into the state. “We’ve not held talks with labour unions yet, but we plan to do so before bringing in any amendments,” the official added.

The draft policy also proposes an increase in shift timings and an increase in the number of shifts for women employees. The existing shift is between 6 am and 7 pm, while the draft proposes that women can be put on shifts between 6 am and 10 pm on multiple shifts.

“The shift timings in the (garment) industry currently are 9 am to 5.30 pm, but if this proposal is accepted the workers may be asked to work multiple shifts or in different shift timings. Many workers in garment units in Peenya, Nelamangala and Madanayakanahlli travel more than 20 km to reach their workplace. Will factories and companies take the responsibility of arranging safe travel conditions for workers?” Pratibha asked. 

The garment industry has been hit heavily by the coronavirus pandemic. A garment factory unit of Gokaldas Exports in Mandya district laid off its employees in June without any notice, citing lack of manufacturing activity due to the pandemic. The factory, which is a major exporter in India, manufactured clothes for international brands like H&M.

Activist and advocate Vinay Sreenivasa questioned the basis for the proposed changes to the labour laws. “The industries themselves have not asked for the proposed changes and this is not good for anybody. What is the premise for this? If you’re making workers work so much, what will happen to their health? They are not pieces of equipment that are to be used till their utility is done. The state has to discuss with worker unions and reconsider the changes,” Vinay said. 

In May, the Karnataka government was criticised for a controversial notification that extended the maximum working hours from 8 to 10 per day and from 48 to 60 per week for factory workers in the state. The notification was withdrawn on June 12 in a submission made in the Karnataka High Court.

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