Jeanne P., our intern, attended a meeting of the union of women textile workers in the Roopena Agrahara neighborhood of Bangalore. The Karnataka Garment Workers Union is supported by the FEDINA’s network and is recognized as one of its most active. Our intern is more than surprised to discover the organization of the KGWU, where ‘people actually listen to each other’.
5 years ago, the garment workers of Roopena Agrahara joined and created the Karnataka Garments Workers Union, helping them to organize and put across their demands to obtain better working conditions. The KGWU is a well-established union that knows where it’s going. The women present at the meeting are incredibly determined, even if one could say that their revolution is step-by-step.
Exploitation behind the sewing machines
In the factories, women get every day a new model and enough fabric to produce 60 pieces.
They get up at 5.30am to take care of household chores and get to work at 9am. Officially, the factory closes at 5.30pm, but they will never finish working before 6pm : there is simply never enough time to finish all the pieces required. This half-hour of overtime is not paid: these women have to excel themselves, working 6 days a week, 48 hours in total.
The workers earn between 4,500* and 6,500 rupees* a month1. Over ten minutes late at work and women have to work an extra half-day unpaid on Sunday. At the end of the month, only if the workers have been present at the factory every day, they get a 300* rupee bonus. There is no such thing as a social security for most garment workers even if they do damage their health at the factories (eyesight troubles, chronic migraines, accidents at work). Finally, the elder the worker gets, the reduced is its wage, for productivity matter.
A great example of ingrate process
Three years ago, the factory decided to sack all the workers overnight, close up shop and take off with the money.
The factory owner gave the workers 2,500 rupees compensation and told them to go home.
However,15 women chose to turn to the union and a complaint2 was registered at the Labour Department. In the following days 150 women went also to obtain what was rightfully due.
Discouraged from following through the lengthy legal process, only 15 syndicated women carriend on the fight during a two year trial. In the end, the verdict condemned the employer to pay them 22,000 rupees.
Pushpa, garment worker and member of the KGWU says : ‘Over the last 5 years, the union has helped us to understand our rights at work. This has helped us to fight against abuses by the factory managers and in many cases to have our rights respected. Before the union existed, we never spoke about our working conditions outside our homes.The union helps us know our rights, meet others, have hope and become respectable.’
1The decent living wage for a family is 10,000 roupies per month
2 The law requires that employers in this situation must pay their employees 3 months’ salary