The Indian apparel industry is in the process to understand the ‘new normal’ in current conditions, and at this point of time, is also preparing to be on track, as factories across most of the leading apparel manufacturing hubs are expected to start work from 4th May. But there are some urgent challenges for the industry and they need to be tackled on a priority basis, one being the shortage of labour. Nearly all the HR professionals and top management personnel of apparel companies agree to the fact that there will be labour shortage, and most of them don’t even see any effective solutions. Apparel Resources explores what’s cooking in the minds of HRs, top management professionals and labour contractors…
Currently as well as post COVID-19, there are many obvious reasons that labour shortage is going to be a big issue, as majority of the workers across the apparel manufacturing hubs are migratory. It is a well-known fact that large chunk of workers have already gone back to their villages and are now actively engaged in wheat harvesting. Therefore, it is obvious that they will not be back for a few months, as they have money with them and would prefer to be safe in their villages rather than coming back to metro cities and working in factories.
Secondly, those workers who are still in metro cities or are living in hostels will certainly go to their villages to meet their families once the public transport starts functioning normally. Labour contractors, specifically working with apparel factories, are of the view that now they will be back only after Diwali or Chhath Puja, as they would not like to put their lives at risk owing to coronavirus. And this is going to be almost the same at all the hubs across India.
No more loyalty!
Over the years, Indian apparel factories have done a lot for workers’ upliftment. Global brands and retailers have also supported the same. All this has resulted into the ‘loyalty’ factor from workers’ side, but given the current grim situation, it looks like this loyalty factor is not going to work anymore, as workers with changed mindsets will give priority to any work providing them a little more money comparatively and within their comfort zones. On the condition of anonymity, few industry insiders shared with Apparel Resources that since some factories have neither given full wages for March to their workers nor have helped them during this difficult phase, expecting loyalty from them sounds unfair.
On the other hand, SMEs but good companies, where owners are in direct touch with most of the workers and where many workers have been employed for decades, strongly believe that since owners have always supported their workers both professionally and personally, workers too will prove their loyalty towards them now.
“We and most of the factories have some work, as few shipments were in progress before the lockdown and we have to complete those orders whenever factory reopens. So there’s work for a month or even more. Labour shortage will be there for sure, but it’s now workers’ turn to support their factories. Mutual understanding will play a more important role now,” says Uday Sehgal, Director, Mariko, Noida.
Various factories making masks, PPE as of now are also of the view that during this year, even if orders remain as per their expectations (which are already very low), there will be at least 30 to 40 per cent shortage of labour.
Production managers also worried
In many factories, some of the professionals of production departments are already thinking hard in this regard, as they remain in direct touch with supervisors and workers. Some of these professionals have a good understanding with the supervisors and workers, which proves instrumental to run a factory more smoothly, but now under the altered conditions, all of them have their own set of apprehensions.
“I took an initiative and hired around 50 trained and migrant young girls in my factory, and further trained and motivated them. But now they are facing challenges to pay rent for the month of April; the factory has not been able to support them at all and we don’t even have any clue whether or not we would be able to give them their wages for April. So, it will be very difficult for us to retain them in future,” shares a production manager of a Gurgaon-based export house on the request of anonymity. The export house has two factories of 600 machines in Gurgaon.
Steps to stop shortage
“Yes, there will be shortage of labour, and I see only one solution – that is to pay advance salaries, as it attracts workers who need money,” says Davinder Singh, MD of Ludhiana-based Davinder Sandhu Impex Limited. Having 2,800 workers, the company is one of the leading apparel manufacturers of the city, working for both export and domestic markets.
“Besides maintaining a cooperative environment for workers and providing them with basic facilities, facilitating them with free buses for pick and drop is one important tool to overcome this challenge, as it ensures workers’ comfort and saves their money too,” opines Krishna Chandra Biswas, Senior Manager, HR & Compliance, Magnolia Martinique Clothing, Noida.
Another side of the story
Around 3 to 4 per cent of Indian apparel factories do have facilities like hostels and dormitories with proper food services, and even during the lockdown, workers living in these hostels are completely taken care of. So, such factories are expecting not to be a part of this looming problem. Zahir Saith, CEO, ITCRmg, Tirupur, says, “All of our workers are with us in hostels and we are meeting them daily, discussing all things. They will plan their visits to their hometowns in a way that work will not suffer at all.”
At the same time, some industry people share the opinion that though there will be shortage of labour for sure, it is too early to say how much it will impact the business, as all will depend on the number and size or orders. RS Singh, Manager-HR, Neetee Apparel, Gurugram, informs, “We are in touch with fellow exporters and Government officials and have suggested some points to avoid this labour shortage.”