AP: Garment workers face low pay, high production targets

Faced with a large debt, an unfinished house and two children in school, Sudha, a 26-year-old textile worker considers quitting her job. She started her career as a seamstress at the Shahi Exports factory in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh in 2018. “Over the past three years, only production targets have increased while wages have remained stagnant,” Sudha said. .

She has to sew about 80 to 100 garments in one hour, or more than 600 pieces per day. But even with these lofty production targets, the company refused to raise wages. After deducting the Provident Fund (PF) and the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESI), she receives around Rs 8,600 per month.

But it’s not just Sudha who worries about low wages and unrealistic production targets. On May 9, 2022, around 2,000 Shahi Exports factory workers protested outside the factory demanding higher wages. The company’s refusal to raise wages comes at a time when India is going through high inflation. According to go data, the annual inflation rate in India rose to 6.01% in June 2022.

“We pay out of pocket for the trips to and from the factory. With rising fuel prices, it has become almost impossible to afford it. I used to spend around Rs 800 a month on a road trip which would be filled with 11-12 people,” said a worker who took part in the protest. In order to make up for the lack of increase over the past three years, the workers demanded a wage increase of at least Rs 3,000.

Although a pay rise was the protest’s main demand, workers also raised issues such as verbal harassment from managers and a lack of proper breaks. “Supervisors yell at us if we fail to meet production targets. Some even use very foul language, it’s humiliating,” says Lekshmi, a 28-year-old tailor who works at the factory. “I saw workers crying as they were yelled at,” she adds.

Workers also claimed they were instructed not to speak to each other, even to those on the same production line during working hours. Workers get a 30-minute lunch break that they often miss due to high production targets. Another demand from the workers was cleaner toilets. “There are only three toilets, two for women and one for men, in the factory which is always crowded and often dirty.” says a 22-year-old worker, Radha.

The protest lasted five days and ended on May 13, with management promising to address all issues raised by workers. The promise, however, remained only on paper.

Workers say the company has also begun retaliating by targeting workers who took part in the protests. “Torture for production increased after the protest, and many workers are considering quitting and moving to other factories,” Lekshmi said.

An investigative report released by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a global labor and social alliance, documents several violations, including gender-based harassment and violence at the factory.

“Workers’ stories of unfair labor practices and workplace retaliation are heartbreaking. We expect Shahi Exports management to investigate workers’ grievances and resolve them in cooperation with worker representatives,” said Aman Khan, AFWA’s India coordinator.

Harish, a machine operator who had an accident in 2020 while cleaning a piece of equipment in the factory, said management only provided first aid and did not approve his leave from work. sickness. “We don’t get enough pay. Expenses are extremely difficult to manage. Management needs to listen to our demands, the factory and management need our workforce as much as we need the work,” he said.

Shahi, however, denied the allegations and called AFWA’s investigation report “completely incorrect”.

“The unit salary structure being followed is in full compliance with Andhra Pradesh government notifications governing the quantum and payment of salaries in the state, the company said, adding that the salary disparity allegations are completely false.”

The declaration of the company in a letter to NewsClick said the Assistant Commissioner of Labor of the State Department of Labor visited the unit on May 10, 2022 and, after a thorough inspection of records and data, confirmed that Shahi Exports, Kuppam, is in compliance with the government order and convinced the workers to return to work. ”

*The names of the workers have been changed to protect their privacy

The writer is a freelance journalist who has worked with PARI, The News Minute, Asiaville and LiveWire

Michael O. Stutler