A total of 1,257 workers lost their jobs in June 2020 after the factory was abruptly shut down citing the pandemic as a reason.

GATWU protest Women sitting in four lines at fixed distance wearing black masks and holding up a cloth reading GATWUFile photo
Money Labour Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 12:44

Months after hundreds of garment workers who worked for a company attached to Gokaldas Exports were laid off in Karnataka, the company has agreed to reinstate almost all of them. Workers in the factory were at the time stitching apparel for retailers such as H&M — its primary client then. 

In June 2020, one of the factories of Euro Clothing Company (ECC-2) in Srirangapatna, a town in Mandya district, announced that 1,257 workers in the Srirangapatna factory will be laid off and work at the unit will be reduced in view of shutting it down. Euro Clothing Company is attached to Gokaldas Exports (GE), a major apparel and clothing exporter in India. It also stated that the workers will be paid half of their wages and the factory will not be operational.

The pandemic and the business being hit were cited as reasons for these steps, and ECC-2 had said that it had seen a decrease in orders placed by international retailers. Machinery was removed from the factory in the last week of May. However, the factory workers were unionised.  Jayaram KR of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) had told TNM that at the time that a settlement was reached, and 22 of the 1,300-odd workers were transferred to ECC-1. 

Now, eight months after the workers were first laid off, the company has agreed to re-employ them. While the Srirangapatna factory remains closed, the company has agreed to take workers back in a factory that is 12 kilometres away from the one that was shut down. 

“We are told that the rehiring process will be completed by August. Even though the Srirangapatna unit was closed and the machines were removed, workers will get rehired in another unit in Mysuru which is nearby. Twenty-two workers had also transferred to a unit in Mysuru earlier,” Jayaram told TNM.

In a statement, the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), of which GATWU is an affiliate, said that the workers — most of them women — “were illegally laid off on June 8, 2020, a week after they thwarted their management's effort to remove machinery from the factory by stealth.”

“As an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, GATWU sought to enforce H&M’s Global Framework Agreement (GFA) with IndustriALL with the understanding that in the global supply chain TNCs (transnational corporations) must bear responsibility for rights of their suppliers’ workers too,” he said. 

NTUI said Gokuldas Exports was unable to prove the legality of the layoffs. 

“When the 56-day long workers sit-in at the factory proved impregnable, GE mobilised its managers to follow workers into their villages and even to their homes to break them away from the union. H&M, too, ‘independently’ sought to ‘interview’ workers through GE managers to ‘understand’ their conditions without providing any prior information to either the workers or their union,” NTUI said. 

NTUI said that protesting workers had been unable to hold out due to the pandemic and were compelled to accept retrenchment dues.

The union added that the agreement that has now been reached accepts the closure of the factory, and secures jobs for all 1,257 workers in other factories of Gokuldas Exports “with continuity of employment and the provision of company paid transport to and from work”. 

“The agreement also grants GATWU recognition at GE factories where at least one in five workers is a union member,” it added. 

However, the union alleged that H&M displayed a weak commitment to its own Global Framework Agreement, and took no responsibility for the workers. “H&M’s tangible support to ensure that the agreement is implemented to the full must now be demonstrable,” it added. 

TNM has reached out to H&M, and the story will be updated if they respond. 

Read: Sudden closure of Karnataka garment factory stitching H&M clothes leaves workers stranded

Read:  One month after closure of garment factory in Mandya, workers continue protest

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