It was 8th of March and International Women’s Day was being celebrated across India. Nearly all garment factories celebrated it and women got special treatment. While all this was happening, few women were standing outside a well-known garment factory in Udyog Vihar, Gurugram as they had to collect their wages of the last few months. Their primary cause of worry has been their unemployment as they couldn’t find a job in any of the garment factories.
Udyog Vihar, one of the leading clusters having hundreds of garment factories, often used to have vacancy notices put up in front of factories stating requirement for tailors, checkers or helpers but now when the AR team visited the area, none of the factories had any such notices in front of them.
And this situation of Gurugram is almost similar to most of the factories in North India as well as in South India.
Karnataka, with an apparel manufacturing hub like Bengaluru, is facing an even worst situation as the State Government has said in the assembly that one lakh women workers are jobless as several apparel units are still not operational.
Conditions are no better in other apparel hubs like Ludhiana (Punjab), Surat (Gujarat) as the increase in cases of COVID-19 and unstable conditions have created confusion in the mind of workers as they don’t wish to go back to their villages but at the same time, they have fear of Covid as well as jobs’ uncertainty that might arise in the coming weeks.
Ajit Lakra, a leading apparel manufacturer of Ludhiana, who is also associated with many trade bodies, claims that Ludhiana used to have around more than one million workers but now it is less than half. And everyone is helpless due to very limited resources.
And this shortage of jobs is despite the fact that a big chunk of workers, who went back to the villages last year during the lockdown, have not yet returned.
Workers,who are not having jobs for the last few months, are much worried as this is also the time to go back to their villages for the Holi festival as well as for wheat harvesting and marriage season. But they don’t have enough money and they also fear that if they go back to villages, they will have more difficulty getting a new job after a few months.
Currently 80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are from Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, MP and Punjab. Karnataka and Gujarat are amongst the biggest hubs for the textile and apparel industry.
The industry can’t do anything in this critical scenario as it is currently facing plenty of challenges– be it a steep hike in yarn price, limited resources, high pressure of cost, etc. So what are the pro-workers NGOs doing to support the workers in this regard?
Like industry and other stakeholders, NGOs are also under pressure but it is fair to expect them to help the workers in this critical phase.
“No doubt, NGOs are facing challenges like others or even more as for funding and all other kind of support, NGOs are dependent on others but if NGOs will not come up with solution and support at this time, who else will?,” said VK Jha, Founder and Convener of Delhi-based NGO AIDER.
Since lockdown, AIDER is supporting around 5,000 families of apparel workers with free dry ration and at the same time, it has come up with employment opportunity for women workers through community product initiative. It has motivated women to produce whatever products they can make at their homes like apparels, bags, table covers, crochet-based products, Madhubani painting, any craft-based product, etc. These products are being offered at open market, and also to domestic as well as international buyers. This effort is being appreciated and women workers are getting good value for their products.
AIDER is also in touch with Government officials of MSME and other departments, so the workers can get benefits of various Government schemes also.
Similarly in South India, trade unions and NGOs have also taken steps to support workers, motivating them to start their own business related to stitching and supporting them to get loans.
S. Thivya, State President, Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) informed, “We have pushed the bank officials to clear loans for workers who wish to start their small units of 5 to 7 machines for job work, local supply. Around 300 workers applied for small loans and 57 of them have started their businesses after getting the loan. Rest should getloans once the election completes in Tamil Nadu.”
Bengaluru, where lakhs of workers are jobless, has also noticed similar efforts made by trade unions and NGOs. Prathiba R, President of Garments and Textile Workers Union, Bengaluru told Apparel Resources that they have pushed buyers to make sure that their vendors don’t close factories and the jobs of workers continue. And they have succeeded also to some extent. They have negotiated hard with the closed factories so that the workers who lost their job can get maximum compensation.
“All these efforts have proved beneficial to thousands of workers. Apart from this, we are helping those who could not yet get jobs to arrange their basic needs,” she said.
No doubt, regional NGOs are doing their best as they are under pressure and they do know that this is the time to help their base, which is workers. But all these efforts can’t be like a mass moment; NGOs can’t support lakhs of workers who are jobless and need immediate support. Infact, every NGO and union representative has agreed with this fact that despite their best efforts and whatever support they get, there can’t be a solid enough system for jobless workers.
The only solution is joint effort which is a rare thing in the Indian apparel industry. The entire supply chain such a strade bodies, ministries, NGOs have to come together on one platform for a common goal.
Lakshmi Menon Bhatia, Industry Veteran who is actively working for the interest of homeworkers totally agrees that collaborative efforts of all stakeholders will support the jobless workers. She told, “As formal supply chain is very much under pressure, alternative livelihood is the need of the hour and this is being explored by various organisations. But definitely there is a strong need to scale these steps.”
Lockdown completed one full year on 23 March and still, there is much uncertainty regarding jobs, health as well as overall arrangements in any case of an unpleasant situation. So, the need of the hour is that every stakeholder should do its best to support the workers who are the base of the industry.