On June 6, around 1,300 workers employed in a garment factory in Srirangapatna in Mandya district of Karnataka were informed through a notice stuck on a wall in the factory premises, that they no longer had their jobs and that they would be paid half of their wages. Workers from this factory unit – Euro Clothing Company (ECC) II – which is attached to Gokaldas Exports (GE) are protesting their dismissals claiming that it was done in violation of the law.
But over a month after negotiations began between the workers, labour department officials, and representatives of the exporter, there is no resolution yet.
On Thursday, some workers said that they were approached by factory officials who urged them to resign. "Two factory officials came to a worker's residence in Pandavapura coercing them to resign saying that the factory will not open again. They had lists of details of other workers who were in the unit," Jayaram KR of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) told TNM.
The New Trade Union Initiative claimed that this was an attempt by Gokaldas Exports (GE), a major apparel exporter in India, to intimidate the workers. "GE has been sending their managers to the factory to intimidate workers and aggravate their already soaring anxiety. They are defaming the union, our affiliate Garment and Textile Workers Union, claiming that the union is delaying the resolution of the dispute by filing complaints which will eventually end up in court. GE is playing with the lack of trust workers have in the judiciary as a method of building coercive pressure on workers to resign," Gautam Mody, General Secretary of NTUI said in a statement.
TNM spoke to a number of workers protesting the layoffs who said that they were living on borrowed money to pay their bills. They were paid half of their wages for June this week. "Around 600 of us have continued to protest despite the attempts of the factory officials to convince us to resign," Jayaram said.
The workers stitch clothes for international brands like H&M. In an earlier statement, H&M said that it was following the developments and that the retailer was in close dialogue with both the workers and the supplier to resolve the conflict. A spokesperson from the company told TNM that H&M is fulfilling the payments for orders placed by it with the supplier – Gokaldas Exports.
"At this point, our orders at this specific supplier are on similar levels as during the same period last year. We are also fulfilling our payments for goods in accordance with contracts, on time and at the originally agreed price,” an H&M spokesperson wrote to TNM. H&M said that the conflict in Mandya was due to ‘different interpretations of Indian laws’.
But labour activists say H&M has not done enough to resolve the conflict affecting the workers who make their products. According to NTUI, H&M sources products from six factories of Gokaldas Exports in Mandya. There are 20 factories in total. "ECC -II is the only one where a majority of the workers are unionised and has been so for over several years now. Targeting this factory alone amounts to a fundamental violation of right to freedom of association," Gautam Mody said.
He added that H&M was encouraging the act of 'union busting', practices to disrupt union activity.
Sources in the Labour Department in Mandya told TNM that there was a delay in the negotiations and that the factory officials had given a number of options to the workers to resolve the conflict. However, the workers are adamant that the layoffs were illegal and announced without warning.
The workers are asking the labour department (Karnataka government) to prosecute Gokaldas Exports for non-payment of full wages for the lockdown period. The workers say that alternatively, they are also open to restarting work at the factory if they are reinstated and paid full wages for the layoff period.