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Life for Garment Workers in India

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The global production economy is obviously great for workers. Thank you Walmart, Gap, and Target for providing these workers in India jobs by contracting production out to the lowest bidder who have every incentive to beat and rob workers at every point of the process.

Rahul was earlier being paid Rs. 5813. However, he says, the working hours are rarely limited to eight. “Generally, we work for 12 to 14 hours per day,” said Prajapati. Money for ‘overtime’ is paid but rarely according to official rates which should be double the usual wages. For someone getting Rs. 7600 as salary, money for per hour of ‘overtime’ should amount to around Rs. 60 (with the daily pay being Rs. 250 approximately, the per hour rate would come to around Rs. 30). Prajapati said that workers like him got anywhere from Rs. 27 to Rs. 30 as payment for overtime, in gross violation of the official guidelines.

Virender Ram is a tailor, a higher-up in the hierarchy of garment factory workers. He came to work here two years ago, from the plains in Nepal. Although he is getting the newly revised salary of approximately Rs. 9000, he is still not entitled to any paid leaves or regular weekly offs, nor does he get the payment for “overtime” according to the official rates.

Ajay Kumar came to Udyog Vihar looking for work a decade ago. Initially, he received Rs. 2600 as salary for his work as “helper”. He continued at the same factory all these years and is now getting paid the revised minimum wage. He told me that while he was getting payment for “overtime” at the official rate – double of the usual rate – the behaviour of the supervisors in the factories in Udyog Vihar left much to be desired. “They are often abusive,” he told me.

Other workers corroborated the allegation. “The lower level of management treats workers badly,” said a worker on condition of anonymity. The reasons for the ire of the supervisor can often be a small delay in finishing lunch or having the tea within the stipulated time – they are allowed half an hour for lunch and fifteen minute breaks for tea twice a day. “Especially those in the housekeeping department, like sweepers for example, are treated the worse. They can be fired for the smallest of reasons, and that too only on the basis of suspicion sometimes,” said Rithik Kumar who has worked as a sweeper among other odd-jobs in these factories. He told me he had worked in several factories in Udyog Vihar and physical abuse was a recurring feature everywhere. “If they abuse us verbally, we also respond at times. If you have hands, so do we,” he said, explaining how fights took place. He added that no one was happy working in these factories. “People return to their villages as poor as when they came to work here,” said Rithik.

Rithik and other workers also claimed that while money for Provident Fund was deducted from every worker’s salary, hardly anyone received it. “They even throw you out if you fall sick a couple of times in quick succession,” another worker added.

Others pointed to the open drain near which many workers live as an important source of occurrence of illness. It traversed the entire length of the colony on one side. Flies and other insects hovered above its dirty water, with garbage rotting on its sides.

“What can be worse than this? Kids are playing next to the open drain. It is filthy here,” said one of the workers. “We are also human beings. But the way we are treated in these factories, I am afraid to set foot in them,” Rithik told me. Other workers added that even going to the loo was highly restricted and controlled, with workers expected to do it as quickly as possible.

India has different workplace and environmental standards and I guess that’s OK! Those workers should be thankful when they are beaten or when their kids get sick from the poisons around the factory! Yay capitalism! Obviously opposing this system of exploitation is a sign on my own immorality in denying these workers these wonderful lives they are now leading.

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