Hundreds of garment workers in Chennai, under the leadership of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union, organized a day long protest action on July 22, demanding that the wage increase announced in February – around Rs 3,000 more than the average garment industry wages announced in 2004 – be actually implemented.
In Chennai alone, more than two lakh workers are reported to be working in the garment manufacturing industry, whose products are supplied to several prominent, high-end international brands from the US, Europe and Japan.
According to the protesting workers, at present, workers in garment factories are still getting paid between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,000 a month, based on the range of minimum wages stipulated by the Tamil Nadu government’s labour and employment department in 2004. The 2004 wages were themselves implemented only in 2012, after several years of agitation by the Garment and Fashion Workers Union.
It may be noted that minimum wages in India are determined by different states under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. Minimum wages across India are thus not uniform and in many cases are less than Rs. 600 per day. According to the president of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union, “India does not have a common minimum wage policy that cuts across different industries. We have a backward policy in which wages are arbitrary and different for different states, regions, sectors and genders.”
In Tamil Nadu’s garment sector itself, for instance, the monthly minimum wage for a tailor is supposed to be Rs 5,600 in big cities, Rs 5,500 in smaller municipalities and Rs 5,300 in towns and villages. A supervisor in the same factory is supposed to get around Rs 100 more respectively in each of the three zones.
The protest actions by the garment workers in Chennai reveal the intense exploitation and the abysmal and arbitrary pay scales that workers across India are forced to survive on, despite rising costs of living.