Garment workers and unions participated in a strong protest organised by the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) on 12th September in Bengaluru.
The Code on Wages 2019, became an Act on 2nd August 2019, when the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabja. This Code subsumed 4 existing laws including the Minimum Wages Act (1948). According to the Code as well as the earlier Act, the minimum wage rate needs to be revised within a period of five years each time. The last revision, in Karnataka, happened in 2014 when it was fixed at Rs.8000 per month. In February 2018, the government issued 3 final notifications and one draft notification, fixing the minimum wage at Rs 11,580 per month. However, these notifications were withdrawn after the managements of the units approached the government.
The workers’ unions in Bengaluru filed a writ petition against the government in the High court. The verdict concluded that the government has the right to withdraw the notifications, but it should put out the revised notification within six months.
In the meanwhile it is reported that in the latest meeting of the tripartite committee, which has the power to recommend minimum wages to the government, held on 5th September, the government and the employers’ representative outvoted the union representatives, and recommended the minimum wage of Rs 8,880, offering only a 9% revision after 5 years. The union has condemned this retrogressive step and pointed out that the government has clearly taken an anti-worker and pro-capitalist stand.
The garment sector has seen a contraction of 10-15% in sales and more than 20 factories shutting down within the last six months. Already, many medium sized and smaller units are closing their factories 2-3 days every month. As things worsen with declining exports, the wages of workers are being driven down to the bottom and many are losing their livelihood. The bourgeoisie has been brazenly beating this drum that wages in garment and textile exports have to be kept “competitive” with countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, meaning that wages have to be kept below even the minimum wages.
The GATWU and workers have demonstrated that this is unacceptable. It is the duty of the government to ensure that their right to livelihood and minimum wages are secured.