The whole world is celebrating Labour Day today, but only on social media. The workers themselves, however, find no good reason to celebrate, as they understand that the apparel factory owners don’t have funds to pay their wages. This raises the big issue – how to pay wages, and the issue is not limited only to the month of April, but it is likely to continue for the next few months as well. The workers are not only worried about their salaries, but also retrenchment.
Similarly, top to middle-level professionals are also worried, as their companies are in progress to finalise the salary cut slabs. Worries of workers and professionals seem to continue, and as even the Government also has not come up with any support or package, it looks like no one has a solution to this critical problem.
Across all apparel manufacturing hubs in India, nearly all garment factories are used to pay wages to their workers during the first 10 days of the month and most of the factories transfer the amount into their workers’ accounts. As the month of May starts today and factories are expected to open on 4 May, workers are eagerly waiting to get their wages. Many of these workers are Muslims, and as their holy month started on 23 April, they obviously need comparatively more money during this time.
Time and again, it has been said by trade bodies and various Export Promotion Councils (EPCs) that the industry is not in a position to pay wages and it could lead to labour unrest also. As per the information coming from several industry sources, various companies are currently divided into three segments.
The first segment comprises few companies that are paying almost full wages of April to their workers. These companies include Shahi Exports, Arvind Ltd. TCNS Clothing and Apollo International. Though few sources have confirmed this information, there’s been no official announcement on the same. At the same time, few companies are planning to pay some part of the wages instead of full wages.
The second segment involves few organisations including giants that have dozens of factories in various states and are working with top global retailers and brands. These are refraining to pay any money from their pockets to their workers, as they don’t have any funds. These include SMEs also. As the businesses of these companies were already in trouble, they claim that they will have to sell their factories to pay to the workers.
In the third segment, some companies are still thinking how to handle worker salaries, and are waiting for the Government incentive package for their survival.
In South India, factories in hubs like Coimbatore, Tirupur, Salem, and Erode will go with the combined decision of their associations, as these trade associations are in constant touch with the Government bodies and labour associations.
As far as the worker unrest is concerned, factories are not much worried if they are unable to pay wages to the workers, as the majority of migrant workers have already gone back to their hometowns and rest of them are also planning to do so.
More or less, the aforementioned strategies are for the wages for April, whereas wages for the upcoming months, especially May and June, will be decided later, as the overall condition might change during these months.
All this is irrespective of whatever advisories have been issued by various Governments; factories will have to pay to their workers and there will be no deduction, but at the same time, it is also pertinent to highlight here that there are many companies that have not paid full wages even for the month of March. Even the Kerala Government promulgated an ordinance to override the High Court stay on deferment of the payment of salary of Government employees for 6 days every month from April to August.
In this scenario, it is also worth mentioning that just a few days back, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed the Centre to ‘place its policy’ on record with regard to the wage and salary issue and granted 2 weeks’ time to the Union Government to file its response.
It is not really a matter of worry for factories as to how they will get workers when they will have work, even if they don’t pay wages now. A part of the industry believes that workers do understand the condition of the factories. Workers seeking jobs will join factories again irrespective of their past experiences.
Having said that, the truth remains that workers will have to face troubles from various corners. Even if factories open on 4 May or a little later and workers wish to work, factories will have to maintain social distancing, and thus, there will be lesser jobs available.
Meanwhile, middle-level management is also on the receiving end, as companies are in the process to create slabs regarding salary cuts. Higher the salaries, higher the cuts – this is what Indian apparel industry will follow.
Industry insiders have also shared that Directors and CXOs of few companies have come forward and supported their organisations by deciding for not taking their salaries for the next two-three months.
These unprecedented times need unprecedented actions, and everyone needs to support each other. Things will be clearer in the coming days, but difficulties and challenges are definitely going to remain for all – be it a worker or a CMD.