India underwent the nationwide lockdown on 25 March, and exactly 3 days from now, on 25 August, the country will complete 5 months of having struggled through the global crisis. Much like various other sectors, the Indian apparel industry too faced the brunt. While tackling the uncertainties, industry stalwarts issued videos, wrote letters to their staffs informing about huge negative impacts of the pandemic on their businesses, about job losses, salary cuts, and several related aspects.
Now that the unlocking has begun across the country, things are moving towards normalcy – aptly termed ‘new normal’. People have learnt to accept and live with the reality of the deadly virus, with an aim to slowly yet steadily getting back to their normal lives and lifestyles. So far as the overall conditions of the apparel industry in this new phase are concerned, factories have been picking up production for the last 2 months, and new orders have also started arriving. Having said that, the burning question at the moment is – what is the condition of junior and mid-level professionals? Are they still suffering from the challenges like no jobs, being forced to work on reduced salaries, etc.?
On 4 June, Apparel Resources reported how 2 lakh mid-level professionals were facing job losses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It looks like the situation hasn’t changed much since!
In order to better gauge the current situation, we spoke to several professionals working at various departments and at different levels of apparel factories, buying houses, and liaison offices across India. Two things that remained common during our interactions include – first, re-joining of the junior and mid-level management (those were asked to leave few months ago) as well as some fresh hiring have started.
Many new placements are being announced and LinkedIn has registered increase in hiring activities. Even NIFTA has been placing job requirements for middle level management on their website and on LinkedIn. This indicates that jobs and requirement for management staff is on the rise.
At least 15-20 per cent of junior and mid-level professionals have either resumed their old jobs or have joined new ones. Second is that the majority of staff is still forced to work on reduced salaries, and there are less chances that the salaries will be back to pre-COVID-19 levels, at least for the next 4-5 months.
“Though orders are now coming in, buyers are cutting the prices. In these conditions, every exporter is looking to control the overheads and that includes saving on salaries. But as things are certainly getting better, I am hopeful that by Diwali (mid-November), we will be completely normal and at the pre-pandemic position, be it the issue of jobs or salaries,” said Premal Udani, CMD, Kaytee Exports, Mumbai, who is the former Chairman of Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) and The Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI).
This is certainly good news and is reflected in the increase in rejoining and even new joining, which is mainly owing to the increasing movement in factories, as order bookings have started, and this is expected to grow in the coming days. Hence, workers are required given the requirements of clearing orders in the pipeline as well as new order bookings. Industry insiders have also confirmed that companies are hiring professional qualified freshers from reputed institutes at reasonable packages.
As mentioned above, salaries have become a challenge, as except for a few exceptional cases, the majority of professionals are forced to work on reduced salaries. These professionals have underlined that despite the availability of good orders with their companies and they are going the extra mile to complete these orders in these challenging times. But despite all their efforts, their salaries have not been brought back to the previous packages.
Currently, apparel manufacturers need resources for raw material and related expenditure while they are already facing liquidity crunch. In the next 5-6 months, once the payment cycle of exporters will complete, salaries will hopefully increase.
It is also pertinent to mention here that it is strongly believed the junior and mid-level professionals have turned more responsible and dedicated to their work as compared to the pre-pandemic phase.
Agreeing with above-mentioned observations underlining that re-joining at the junior and mid-level has improved, R K Gaur, VP – HR, Radnik Exports, Noida, adds another interesting point, “Good thing is that the professionals are now clear that there is no space at all for their ‘chalta hai’ (casual) attitude and they are doing their best. Now perfection is a basic condition for any job.”
Things are improving in North India as well as other hubs of the country, especially Bangalore and Tirupur, as junior and mid-level staff and workers (currently as per the requirements) are available there to complete orders. Whereas, conditions in Mumbai and nearby production hubs have not improved much, as local public transport – on which the junior and mid-level professionals are highly dependent – is not operational there. Less availability of labour is another challenge in this area.
JB Jain, President, Rupam, Mumbai, feels that the conditions will improve once the Government allows public transport. He further opines that despite the availability of orders, Mumbai-based factory owners are unable to take orders due to the non-availability of workers and staff in the city. Rupam is among one of the well-known apparel export companies.
The ‘work from home’ culture, which came into force followed by the pandemic and lockdowns that restricted people to move out, still continues to be followed in few companies, and as informed by credible sources, there have been cases of dispute on ‘work from home’, as salaries have not been paid in some cases.
Some instances even signal that instead of reaching some improvement or positivity, things are getting worse now! A Sourcing Manager of a leading Gurugram-based buying house shared on the request of anonymity, “Our company is closing one of its business units and 20 team members of this unit have been forced to leave their jobs. So far, they had been working from home on reduced salaries.”
On a concluding note, we would like to reiterate that though competent employees can’t be replaced and their services will be back in demand once the industry starts picking up in future, several companies are only concerned about handling the current issue pertaining to cost-cutting. The fact of the matter is that conditions will improve sooner or later. Till we reach that stage, one must keep upgrading oneself so far as their core jobs are concerned.