At least 40% of garment workers in Karnataka have lost their jobs, according to estimates given by the textile and garment workers’ unions. Many have not been paid their due wages. With the demand for Indian manufactured textiles and garments in markets across Europe and the UK having fallen drastically due to the Covid-19 and lockdown, many of these companies which manufacture garments for the European markets have closed down or cut back greatly on their workforce.
For three weeks, over 1,300 garment workers have been protesting every single day in front of their factory in Srirangapatna. Earlier in June, they were informed that they no longer had their jobs as the factory was not getting orders from a foreign clothing brand they were producing for.
Nearly six lakh garment and textile workers in Karnataka, of which a majority are women, have been waging a prolonged battle for higher wages, reduced workload and other benefits. The Corona virus pandemic has compounded their problems.
The protest of the workers in the Srirangapatna factory is just one of the many such protests by garment workers in factories throughout Karnataka. According to a representative of the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) which has organized many of the workers’ protests, “Some big companies have paid 70% of the workers, others only 50%. Some are paying staff only for the number of days they work, a few are not allowing people inside as they don’t want their services any more. Around 40% of six lakh garment and textile workers have lost jobs.” Citing examples of how the workers were losing their jobs, he pointed out that “though factories resumed work on May 4, no transport was available for workers. In June, around 50% of garment workers started reporting to work. Some companies have kept tailors but let go of helpers. One big company has merged three of its smaller companies, leading to job losses”.
By the end of March, many of the factories employing a few hundred workers each, had closed down. According to the Vice President of the Garment Labour Union, workers are being laid-off or given work in batches. Many of the garment manufacturing companies have either completely closed down or drastically cut back on their workforce, as the European and British brands they produce for have not opened up their markets yet. An estimated 40% of the workers have lost their jobs, some having been paid last for only a few days of work in May. They are unable to make ends meet in Bangalore city and many have been forced to return to their villages.
The state Labour department has categorically denied receiving any instructions from the government about any form of relief for the garment workers who have lost their jobs.
Nurses at the Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Memorial Medical College & Hospital in Amravati, Maharashtra went on strike on June 23, to protest against non-payment of salaries for the last three months. Among the striking nurses are contract nurses, trainees as well as permanent employees, who have been working at the hospital since March, in adverse conditions, with acute lack of facilities.
The nurses are protesting against the fact that though they were made to work in the quarantine section of the hospital without PPE kits, they were not provided the hospital facilities for the 14 day quarantine meant for the hospital staff. The hospital management forced them to render round-the-clock services, without even making arrangements to provide them food. The nurses had been promised a salary of Rs. 11,000 per month in their appointment letters, but they were actually paid only Rs. 8000.
The management of the Hospital has expressed inability to pay the salaries of the nurses and other staff members, claiming financial crunch due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, the nurses are facing great difficulty without salaries for the past 3 months.
Workers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s solid waste management department face the risk of contracting the virus every day, in the conditions in which they are forced to work.
Dharavi in Mumbai, one of Asia’s largest slums, witnessed a severe outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In the containment zones of Dharavi, the municipal sanitation workers are assigned the work of collecting the waste and loading it on to a vehicle that takes the biomedical waste to the city’s only treatment facility located adjacent to the Deonar dumping ground.
The sanitation workers are concerned because the waste they have to collect from the containment zones is often not segregated into hazardous biomedical waste (yellow bag) and household waste (black bag). Every day the workers have to deal with bags spilling over with all types of mixed waste including masks, gloves, banana peels, gowns and plastic bags. Though they wear hazmat suits, face masks, rubber gloves and boots, they have to segregate by hand the Covid-19 related waste out of the black bags and transfer it into the large yellow bags meant for the purpose. To minimize the chances of infection, the workers take turns to enter the garbage bins, quickly transfer the waste into the van and move on to the next colony of the containment zone.
In areas that are not designated as Covid-19 affected, there are no rules making it mandatory for residents to segregate the waste. However, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research, at least 69% of the patients testing positive are asymptomatic. Therefore, a lot of the waste produced from such residences are likely to be contaminated by the virus already.
Workers in the 46 waste segregation centres of the BMC are at risk, as they separate dry from wet waste. Since April 15, when these centres reopened at the end of the first lockdown, sanitation workers have been dealing with mixed or unsegregated waste containing masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment from households in non-containment zones.
Some of this waste is reported to be even going into the city’s landfills in Deonar and Kanjurmarg where many sanitation workers have tested Covid-19 positive. It has been estimated that that at least 600 kg of plastic from personal protective equipment finds its way to the landfills due to non-segregated waste from households and home quarantine centres.
In Delhi at least 15 sanitation workers have died and 40 had tested positive for the virus till the third week of June. The president of Delhi Safai Karamchari Union has repeatedly pointed out that “after Covid-19 outbreak, every house, roadside and drain has discarded masks, gloves or face shields. Even if one of these items belongs to a positive person, the sanitation worker who is handling it will also contract the disease. As the number of cases increase, this problem will get bigger and it will be our sanitation workers who will lose their lives”.
The government refers to the sanitation workers as “corona warriors” but does not provide them even the minimum protective gear. Many of the contract workers work with only a thin towel covering their nose and mouth. Many have not received their salaries for the past three months from the municipality.
Officials of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation have admitted that PPE kits are provided only to those sanitation workers who collect waste from houses where someone has been tested positive. But those who collect waste from regular houses and sweep the roads and clean drains are only provided with gloves even though they too are at risk, because of acute shortage of PPEs.
The All India Forum for IT Employees (AIFITE) has reported that the American multinational IT services corporation, Cognizant is laying off a large number of its employees across several of its locations in India. Employees of Cognizant in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Kochi and Kolkata have been affected. The Karnataka State IT/ITES Employees Union (KITU) and its corresponding union in Tamil Nadu have reported complaints of retrenchment of employees on a large scale.
The CEO of Cognizant had earlier announced in October 2019 that the company was planning to lay off nearly 13,000 employees, including about 6,000 employees who work on the content moderation business of Cognizant with Facebook.
Cognizant globally has over 2.9 lakh employees, of which about 70% are in India. Nearly 18,000 of these employees are reported to be currently ‘on the bench’, i.e. without projects. These employees are likely to be the first ones to be thrown out.
For several years Cognizant was reported to be the fastest growing among the big multinational IT services companies in India. But for the last 2-3 years it has declared slowdown of growth and has now announced its plans to retrench large numbers of workers.
The acute insecurity of employment that the IT workers in companies like Cognizant face can be understood from the fact that a huge number of employees are kept ‘on the bench’ and given a performance rating, after which they are put on a performance improvement plan (PIP) for up to 45 days. If they fail to qualify in the PIP, they can be asked to leave. Those who qualify are required to get themselves placed in a ‘billable project’ (i.e. a project for which the company can charge service fees) within 35 days (earlier the time limit was 60 days but was reduced to 35 last year), failing which they can be asked to leave on account of “non-contribution of work”.
The employees are being summarily dismissed with severance packages of 12 to 21 weeks’ pay (depending on years of experience) and one week’s pay for every year of service.
This is the plight of the highly skilled workers of the IT industry!