Karnataka lockdown is a blow to garment industry, workers demand 50% of operations
Over 85% of the employees working in Karnataka’s 950 garment factories are women.
Last year, when the nationwide lockdown was announced, Geeta, 25, found herself in a precarious position like millions of others in the country. Her dilemma was whether she should return home to Bagalkote where her family of eight live in a 200 square foot house or continue to live in her room in Peenya de Bengaluru which she shares with four other colleagues. With no transport for her to make the 470 kilometers back, the decision was made for her and she was stuck in her room for almost four months, barely able to make ends meet.
Geeta is again faced with the same questions. The 14-day lockdown-type curfew announced by the Karnataka government has made it clear that garment factories will not be able to operate. On the one hand, garment workers fear they will lose their jobs if they return home, on the other hand, they worry about how they will survive if the lockdown is extended indefinitely.
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Karnataka’s garment industry employs over 5 lakh and they all face uncertainty once again. The nationwide average salary for a garment worker is Rs 9,000 according to government records. The Karnataka Employers Association (KEA) called on the state government to allow at least 50% of its operations to operate.
The Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) also wrote a letter to the CM on Tuesday asking if agriculture and construction activities are allowed, then why is the garment industry being penalized. They also urged the government to allow operations at 50% or provide compensation otherwise. While they hope the state government will revisit its decision, it has further compounded the dilemma for workers.
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Over 85% of employees working in garment factories are women. And many of them are the sole breadwinners in their families. Shantha Moodalgi, who moved to Bengaluru from Tumakuru four years ago, says she received 50% of her salary for about 6 months in 2020 and has yet to receive the rest. She had to take out loans to support her family and now hoped to repay the loan. But now, if the factory where she works is closed again, she will be more in debt. “I had to pay for my younger brother’s studies in Tumakuru. My husband lost his job last year, so I’m the only one with a job in the family, ”she says.
GATWU’s Prathibha says about 40% of employees were last laid off in larger factories and several smaller factories were closed. There are around 950 garment factories in Karnataka and of these 760 are located in Bengaluru.
“Last year, some employees were employed to prepare PPE kits. Many others did not even receive half the salary. Now the employers have not told us that they will pay or that they will not. The situation is bad even for them. They will not suffer losses and will not pay us. We were just trying to get back on our feet, but it’s a big blow to us, ”she told TNM.
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