The physical limits of (garment) production

The international market pressure between low-wage regions like Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh or India translates directly into excessive work-load on the shop-floor. Below you can find some reports, published in May 2010 issue of Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar under the title “Make it through the day… or Living life”. The monthly minimum wage (April 2010) at the times for unskilled workers in Haryana: 4,214 Rs (6-days week, 8-hours day), Delhi 5272 Rs. On 20th of August 2010 the Haryana minimum wage was increased slightly to 4348.21 RS per month for unskilled workers.

In terms of general wage development we quote from the article on mechanisation:

‘His job in the sampling department (which creates the first few samples of every new design) of a large garment manufacturer and exporter fetches him Rs5,700 per month.”That’s a Rs1,700 increase in 10 years,” he says despondently, “while the price of atta has gone from Rs8 to Rs18.”‘
The following article on increasing mechanisation is a good summary of current conditions, but in its predictions it is ideologically tinted. Obviously the spokes-people of capital want to make themselves believe that potentially they are able to replace workers with machines. Nevertheless, the article hints at some important changes within the organisation of garment production, e.g. the expansion of ‘chain-systems’, a more minute division of labour, and the introduction of computer-controlled machines for certain work tasks like thread cutting or embroidery. Often these work-steps have been undertaken by ‘helpers’ and/or female workers.

These Garment Factories Don’t Need Tailors

Live Mint By Akshai Jain (June 2010)

As garment units in Gurgaon scale up into mass manufacturing centres, machines are doing the trickiest work, cutting out the craftsman. When Santosh Kumar Kaushal came to Delhi from Allahabad 20 years ago, he found a job easily. He was a competent tailor, having worked in a small tailoring workshop back home for nearly a decade. After a few years in similar units in the neighbourhood, he settled down in a “fabricator” workshop, a 30-person unit where tailors lived and worked, being paid according to the number of pieces they produced. Till 10 years ago, says Kaushal, he’d make Rs150 a day tailoring coats. “We worked to our own schedules,” he says wistfully, “the atmosphere was friendly and newcomers learnt on the job.” But time and the garment factories of Udyog Vihar in Gurgaon, where he now works, have been cruel to him. His job in the sampling department (which creates the first few samples of every new design) of a large garment manufacturer and exporter fetches him Rs5,700 per month. “That’s a Rs1,700 increase in 10 years,” he says despondently, “while the price of atta has gone from Rs8 to Rs18.”

Ironically, business is better than ever before in Udyog Vihar, one of the largest garment manufacturing hubs in the country. Exports of readymade garments, the mainstay of the manufacturing here, are again on the rise. In 2009-10, India exported garments worth $10.64 billion (Rs50,008 crore today). This year the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), a trade body, expects growth of 10-15%. The garment industries of the National Capital Region, spread across Gurgaon, Faridabad and Noida, contribute more than 28% of India’s total exports; and of this the largest contribution is from the 2,500 manufacturing units of Udyog Vihar. These units, says Darlie Koshy, director general of AEPC, make higher-end “fashion” garments for companies such as Gap Inc., JCPenny Co. Inc., Ivy Co., etc. Among them they employ around 200,000 workers, and are always on the lookout for more.

A skilled tailor such as Kaushal should not find it difficult to get another job. But a series of changes in the manufacturing process over the last decade have made his skills as a tailor redundant. It started with the flood of readymade garments from China and South-East Asia. Fabricator workshops found themselves outpriced and started shutting down.

Manufacturing shifted to factories, where the tailor went from being a craftsman to an employee. Where once a tailor would work on a single garment at a time, now the work was split up among three or four tailors. Productivity went up, and though payment continued to be at “piece rate” or per piece, the charges dropped.

Then about six years ago came the assembly line or the “chain system”. Processes were standardized, and new machinery was brought in to do everything from cutting cloth to sewing on labels and buttons. An army of 30-40 workers would now work on a single garment. One would do just the hem, the other the zip and the third the collar, etc.

Manufacturing costs came down even further, and a flood of international orders started pouring in. Suddenly there was a huge demand for workers, but they didn’t need to be craftsmen. Skilled tailors were relegated to small sampling departments and a new kind of labour started taking over in the factories.

These were unskilled workers brought in by contractors from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. While it would take a tailor a year to acquire the skill to stitch a “full piece” or entire garment, these workers were pushed onto the assembly line after two weeks of training. They settled in vast sprawling tenements in areas such as Kapashera, near Udyog Vihar.

The nali wali gali (street by the drain), which meanders off from the main Kapashera-Gurgaon road, is one such tailors colony in an area infamous for its filth. Local landowners here have created large compounds with hundreds of windowless, matchbox-sized brick rooms that they let out to the garment workers. In the heat of the Delhi summer, the rooms are baking and oppressive. The only access to the compounds is over a concrete beam that spans an open drain clogged with sewage and plastic bags. Four-five workers cram into each windowless room, for which they pay Rs1,000 a month.

In the warren of mud lanes, the conversation is about the wages being offered at different factories. The workers stay with a factory for five-six months, before returning home to their families. When they come back, they find work in another factory. Their wages are around Rs3,600, just above the minimum wage in Haryana. But the work hours are long, stretching at times to 15 hours. They’re paid overtime, they say, but only at their average hourly pay, not double that, as is customary.

Dozens of small “tailoring centres” have come up in these colonies to train workers for the assembly line. Zakir Siddiqui’s centre is a dusty room, open on two sides, with six electric sewing machines. His paan shop sits by the entrance. Siddiqui does not have time for ceremony. The rates for the tailoring courses are scribbled on the wall. A two-hours-a-day tailoring course that teaches workers just a little more than how to sew a straight line, but enough to get them into the factories, costs Rs300. The training for a “checker”, short for a garment inspector, costs Rs800. The centre currently has 80 students.

The tuition is brutal. Siddiqui paces between the machines shouting at the students, rapping them occasionally on the knuckles. “I need to train them with a stick,” he says, loud enough for all the students to hear. “If I train a student in 15 days, I make a profit of Rs100, if they take a month to learn, I make a loss.”

Malti, a middle-aged woman from Bihar, dressed in a bright polyester sari, is staring intently at her machine. She’s worked in Udyog Vihar before, but as a thread cutter. Now she wants to get on the tailoring assembly line. That she hopes will get her a better wage. Students at the centre are guaranteed a job with the caveat that they will only work for a single company that Siddiqui has an arrangement with. The agent from the company, he claims, gets Rs250 for every worker he brings. How much Siddiqui gets, he doesn’t want to disclose.

Virender Kumar, a worker from Uttar Pradesh, is the product of one such “tailoring centre”. He now works on the skirt manufacturing line of a company. Each individual assembly line has 42 workers, six helpers and one master craftsman. Kumar is responsible for the zips. In the years that he’s been working in Udyog Vihar, the number of machines on the assembly lines has gone up dramatically, as has the production. “Five years ago, a single assembly line would have put out 150 pieces a day,” he says. “Today we make 400.”

Kumar’s salary in the meantime has increased from Rs2,800 to Rs3,604. Unfortunately for him, while the minimum wage in Delhi was increased by 33% in February, wages in Gurgaon remain the same.
The increasing mechanization in the garment factories is being driven by clothing companies. In an effort to improve and standardize manufacture across units that are spread around the world, the companies have started stipulating the machinery a unit should use. “That way at least 70-80% of the quality is assured,” AEPC’s Koshy says.

Kaushal, meanwhile, has reconciled himself to becoming completely redundant. It’s only a matter of time before even the handful of skilled jobs in the sampling departments are taken away by sophisticated computer-controlled cutting, or CNC (computer numerical control) machines that have just started appearing in the factories.

“Soon there will be no difference between us and the assembly lines,” he says stoically. Would he join a tailoring shop? “There’s no work to be had there.” An assembly line? “Never.” “Gurgaon,” Kaushal says with a wide sweep of his hand as he prepares to leave, “is no place for tailors.”

———————–

The following is a main-stream newspaper article on Marks and Spencer’s and other multi-national’s take on the condition in Gurgaon.

Britain’s top labels thrive on Indian sweatshop labour

London, August 08, 2010
Britain’s best-known high street stores — Gap, Next and Marks and Spencer — have reportedly launched inquiries into abuse of working regulations at their Indian suppliers, which have resulted in children as young as six being left alone while their parents work in outlets in Delhi and in the satellite township of Gurgaon on its outskirts. According to the London Observer investigation, factories were using workers hired through middlemen, and paying them as little as 25 pence an hour, in the case of Gap and Next, and 26 pence an hour for Marks and Spencers. All three companies told The Observer that they are totally committed to ethical trading and will not tolerate abuses in their supply chain. All said their own auditing processes detected the problems and that they have taken swift action to tackle them. Gap, which uses the same factory as Next, confirmed it had found wage violations and gave its supplier a deadline of midnight last night to repay workers who lost out. Marks and Spencers said it has yet to see evidence to support the wage claims. Workers claimed that those who refused to work the extra hours have been told to find new jobs, a practice defined under international law as forced labour and outlawed around the world. The factory has pledged to apologise and reinstate anyone who lost their job. Next said it had found the situation to be “deplorable” and added the chairman of the Indian company it uses has apologised and promised to make amends, blaming demand for workers at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Delhi for leaving factories short of staff. Gap admitted wage and overtime violations and ordered its supplier to reduce working hours to within the legal limits and to refund workers who have been illegally underpaid. Marks and Spencer admitted its supplier had been operating excessive overtime, but said it had acted quickly to tackle the problem.
(London Observer)
———————-

While Marks and Spencer announced on 8th of August that they keep an eye on their suppliers in Gurgaon, on 21st and 23rd of August the very same suppliers sent armed thugs to attack workers at Viva Global. Following a press statement:

VIVA – GLOBAL (GURGAON) WORKERS BEATEN UP- HUNGER STRIKE BEGINS TODAY

MAZDOOR EKTA MANCH
Plot No. 48, First Floor, Opp. Maruti Gate No.2,
Old Delhi-Gurgaon Road, Gurgaon, Haryana
Phone No. 0124-4385478,9910159352,9958613761, 927828635.
Venue of the Hunger Strike: Viva Global Factory, 413, Udyog Vihar,
Phase – III, Gurgaon – 122 016, Haryana, INDIA

Workers including of the Viva Global Factory, including women were
brutally beaten up with hockey sticks and lathis by goons called in by
the Management of Viva Global, the Gurgaon based sweatshop apparel
house. The incident happened this morning between 9:30 and 10:00 AM
when workers were to enter the premises of the Factory, as part of a
tripartite agreement between the Management of Viva Global, the Labour
Department and the Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU). The
agreement was the outcome of a meeting between the three parties, held
on the 23rd of August 2010. The prevention of workers entering the
factory, is a serious violation of the above agreement. Besides being
beaten, a few workers were abducted in a vehicle by the goondas and
taken to an undisclosed destination. At least one worker is still
missing.

To protest against the high handedness of the Management of Viva
Global and its utter contempt for any laws, rules and rights of
workers, the workers of Viva Global have resolved that the President
of the GAWU, Ms. Anannya Bhattacharjee will be on an indefinite hunger
strike outside the gates of the Viva Global Factory. The hunger strike
began today after a notice to this effect was given to the Labour
Department. Our demands are :- 1) The abducted workers be immediately
brought back. 2) All workers be reinstated and 3) The Management of
the Viva Global apologise to the workers. Representatives of the
Mazdoor Ekta Manch have also lodged a police complaint against the
management for the unprovoked violence on workers and the abduction of
workers.

Viva Global is a major supplier of apparel to ‘reputed’ multinational
superbrands such as Marks and Spencer. There have been serious
violations of labour laws and human rights at the Viva Global Factory.
The Management has been using strong arm tactics against union
leaders, representatives of workers etc., each time that the workers
have demanded that basic amenities and legal wages be given to them.
On the 21st of Aug 2010, at 6.00 PM, contract workers were locked out
of the Factory in an attempt to illegally terminate them. Other
workers (non-contract workers) had then demanded that contract workers
be given their rights in terms of notice pay and the PF amount that
has already been deducted from their wages. Even on 23rd of August,
when workers reported at the gate for duty, they were allowed to to
enter the factory. About 15 local goons with pistols had threatened
the Union leaders and workers. A group of workers and union activists
had then complained about the incident to the Labour Department which
led to the tripartite agreement which had resolved : 1) That there
would be no goondagiri by the Viva Global Mangement whatsoever, 2) All
workers who were locked out would be taken back. Another tripartite
meeting is also scheduled for Thursday the 26th of August for further
discussions. However, the Management of the Viva Global has already
violated the agreement of the 23rd of August.

We would request you to spread the news of the workers struggle at
Viva Global. We would look forward to your solidarity and support!

With thanks // Rajeev Singh.
For the Mazdoor Ekta Manch, Gurgaon.
Media Contact: P. Saleena : 9 6 5 0 8 4 8 4 8 0 .

—————————————————–

Below the long list of workers’ reports from other factories in Gurgaon, showing that Viva Global is not a single ‘black sheep’.

Workers’ Reports – Faridabad Majdoor Samachar

24th of May 2010
Shahi Export, Plot 15a, Sector 28, Faridabad
…after days of overtime many workers collapse. on 24th of May 53 workers are brought to the nearby hospital. they have to be treated with oxygene. 41 workers remain in the hospital. most of the collapsed workers are women…

24th of May 2010
NTL Electronics, Plot F-28, Sector 6, Noida
…after days of overtime six female workers collapse and fall unconscious…

13th of May 2010
Palam Export, Plot A-205, Okhla Industrial Area Phase I
…after having worked 19.5 hours a day for several month a 22 years old worker suffers a heart attack and 50 female workers collapse at work…

13th of may 2010
Sargam Export, Plot 153, Udyog Vihar Phase I, Gurgaon
…during night-shift two workers collapse and fall unconscious…

Enexco Technology
(157 Nourangpur, Gurgaon)
There is money for ESI and PF cut from the 175 casual workers’ wages, but only 15 got an ESI card, and the card is temporary. If people leave the job PF is not paid – the PF form not given. After several years of employment a casual worker said: “Actually we are hired through a labour supplier, through a contractor”. In the factory there are another 125 workers hired through contractor and 40 permanent workers.

Orient Craft Worker
(Plot 15, Sector 5, IMT Manesar)
The 26 thread-cutting workers get 3,000 Rs per month, no ESI no PF. Official shift-times are from 9 am till 6 pm, but they make you work till 2 am. Only if clients/buyers come to the plant workers are let go at 6 pm. We work 60 to 70 hours overtime per month, but the pay-slip only shows 12 to 15 hours. Overtime is paid double rate, but on Sundays they are paid less than single rate. Some supervisors swear a lot at workers.

JNS Instruments Worker
(Plot 3, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 15 buses who bring and return people to and from work. They work from 8:30 am till 5:30 pm, those 200 who work till 8 pm are returned in smaller cars. The male workers work on two 12-hours shifts. The workers hired through contractors get less than single rate for overtime: 14 Rs per hours.

Kailash Ribbon Worker
(403, Udyog Vihar Phase III, Gurgaon)
The helpers among the 400 casual workers get 2,700 to 3,300 Rs, the skilled tailors get 3,500 to 3,900 Rs – neither ESI nor PF.

Eltex India Worker
(887 Udyog Vihar Phase V)
The workers employed in the plant work 200 to 250 hours overtime per month. Sometimes they make you work from 9 am till next day 9 am and then force you to work another whole shift. The overtime is paid single, and 500 to 800 Rs per month are embezzled. The helpers hired through contractors get 2,800 Rs, neither ESI nor PF. The wages are always delayed, we haven’t received our March 2010 wages yet (24th of April 2010).

Sargam Export Worker
(153 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
There are an abundance of little irregularities going on in this factory: there is always some overtime left unpaid; people who had worked January and February 2010 and left the job since then were not paid the 300 Rs DA; those who leave now are not paid the statutory bonus.

Dheer International Worker
(299 Udyog Vihar Phase II)
People work 250 to 300 hours overtime per month. The payment is at single rate and 50 to 60 hours get embezzled per month. Wages are paid delayed.

Cosmy Worker
(864 Udyog Vihar Phase V)
The helpers working in this factory get 3,000 Rs. The skilled tailors get 140 to 150 Rs per day. Wages are delayed. If you leave the job you have major trouble to get your outstanding wages. Workers who go to the local ESI office in Dundahera have to face a lot of trouble.

Mac Export Worker
(143 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
The 400 workers employed in the factory get neither ESI nor PF. The helpers get 3,500 Rs. When being hired the tailors are promised 175 Rs for an 8-hour day, actually they are paid 150 to 160 Rs. The normal shift runs from 9 am till 9 pm, but they make you work longer, till 1:30 am. Overtime is paid at single rate, every month 300 to 400 Rs get embezzled. Lack of drinking water is a major problem in the factory. The toilets are very dirty. The big boss swears a lot.

Asian Handycraft Worker
(310 Udyog Vihar Phase II)
The helpers are paid 3,300 Rs to 3,500 Rs, the skilled workers get 4,000 to 4,500 Rs.

Kis Export Worker
(871 Udyog Vihar Phase V)
In the factory 450 workers are employed through two different contractors, they get neither PF nor ESI. The tailor helpers get 3,914 Rs and the tailors get 156 Rs per day. The 300 Rs DA statutory from January 2010 has not been added to the monthly wages. The thread cutting and bead-stitching women workers are paid 3,600 Rs. The daily working-times are from 9 am till 10 pm – 18 to 20 days per month they make you work till 1 am. About 100 women workers are send home at 9 pm, but a third contractor supplies 20 female workers who work from 9 pm till 1 am. There is no monthly day off. The male workers work 160 to 200 hours overtime per month, about 200 Rs get embezzled. There is a lot of swearing on the shop-floor, there is a lack of drinking water.

Security Guard
The office of the company Swift Security is situated at Nihal Bhavan in Dundahera. The company employs 6,000 security guards, on 2×12-hours shifts. There is no weekly day off. If you work 30 days per month, 12 hours per day they pay you 4,000 Rs to 5,000 Rs. Even after three to four years of employment they don’t give you ESI. They cut 540 Rs in the name of PF – when people leave the job, some are paid double amount of the fund money, some are paid single, some are not paid out at all. Sometimes you have to work 36 hours on stretch – they won’t give you money for food, and the overtime is paid single. Wages are paid with delay. If we don’t have any security ourselves, so will we give anyone else security? We just wear uniforms and stand around.

Eastern Medikit Worker
(292 Udyog Vihar Phase II)
The 300 casual workers were paid their March wages late, on 20th of April. The company did not pay the new minimum wage, only 3,870 Rs. The April wages haven’t been paid yet – 15th of May. The company does not include the DA of July 2009 nor the DA of January 2010. The casual workers work on two 12-hours shifts, the overtime is paid at 14 Rs an hour – March overtime has not been paid yet either. The management would not let casual workers leave after 8-hours, no matter if the worker is ill, no matter if he or she might drop dead.

Bharat Export Overseas Worker
(493 Udyog Vihar Phase III)
Non of the 300 workers employed in the factory get ESI or PF. The helpers in the finishing department get 120 to 130 Rs for an 8-hours shift. Workers work 150 to 200 hours overtime per month, payment is at single rate. There are three faulty fridges for drinking water. The toilets are very dirty.

Oberoi Hotel Worker
(Shankar Chowk)
The workers employed through Starling Vilasan work on the construction site of the five-star Oberoi Hotel. The 300 workers get neither PF, nor ESI. Their wages are below the minimum wage: 3,600 Rs.

Pearl Worker
(446 Udyog Vihar Phase V)
Even if management makes you work till 1 am, they won’t give you extra-money for food. Only the first two hours overtime are paid at double rate – the rest single rate.

Radhnik Export Worker
(215 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
If you want to get drinking water or go to the toilet you have to take a token. If they make you work till 2:30 am they give you 30 Rs extra for food, though the food in the canteen is not good. We work 80 to 100 hours overtime per month, they pay single, but force us to sign double-rate. The 500 skilled tailors get neither ESI nor PF – officially they run as employees of Om Enterprise, but management says, that when clients/buyers come to the factory we are supposed to say we are Radhnik company workers.

Polypack Worker
(193 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
If you take one day of per month, they mark all four weekly days off as absent, even so you have worked. This means that you lose 720 Rs of your monthly wage. The daily shift times are from 8 am till 8:30 pm, they often make you work till midnight. They call any work after 12.5 hours shift ‘overtime’, and pay it less than single rate. The 50 workers hired through contractors are paid 5,400 Rs: for 26 days of 12.5 hours.

Taurus Home Furnishing
(418 Udyog Vihar Phase III)
The helpers are paid 3,000 Rs, the checkers 3,500 Rs and the tailors work on piece-rate. Out of 300 workers only 10 to 15 might get ESI and PF. The drinking water is bad. The toilets are dirty.

Countess Craft Worker
(6 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
The workers employed in the carpet show-room have not been paid February, March and April 2010. The company has not paid into the PF fund the last two years. Since three years the company has not paid the statutory bonus.

Crew Banks Worker
(199 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
Severe wage delays of two month now.

Gaurav International Worker
(198 Udyog Vihar Phase I)
The managers swear a lot at us. The femal thread-cutting workers are paid only 3,000 Rs, the male helpers 3,000 to 3,300 Rs, there is also physical abuse going on.