Thousands of garment workers in the Indian State of Karnataka are demanding the implementation of minimum wage revisions that have been pending for over a year. The workers came on to the streets on September 12, when garment industry employees were not included in the list of 73 categories of employees for whom a revision of minimum wages was announced.
Activists said that garment sector employees have been frustrated with the Karnataka State government ever since the decision regarding the proposed minimum wage revision, from USD 117 to USD 171 per month, was revoked in March 2018, within a month of its announcement. The government’s inaction is affecting close to 3,50,000 garment workers in the State, of whom 85% are women.
According to Apoorva Kaiwar, the regional secretary of IndustriALL South Asia, the “Karnataka government’s lack of commitment towards the welfare of women garment workers has been disappointing. The government should announce the revision of minimum wages without delay.”
Similarly, the president of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), Prathibha, said that the garment workers face enormous hardships in Karnataka, and the delay in the wage-hike goes against the goal of women’s empowerment in India.
“Who will compensate our loss after the withdrawn proposal? Delay in implementing wage revision is wage theft and it is pushing workers into poverty. We demand that the government immediately announces and implements the wage revision,” she said.
GATWU’s main objective is to seek from the right-wing BJP government of BS Yeddiyurappa, a minimum wage that can fulfill basic needs of food, clothing, accommodation, electricity, water, education, and healthcare. They also want family units to be increased from three to five, by including parents as “dependents in the family”.
At present, the garment industry in Karnataka contributes to about 20% of India’s garment exports. Several brands, including H&M, Inditex, Walmart, Old Navy, Target and Khols, source their products from garment factories in the state.
The unions have estimated that workers require a minimum wage of USD 336 per month to live a dignified life. Even so, they have been campaigning for a minimum wage of at least USD 162, an amount that is being provided to other scheduled employees as well.