Death of a Worker: Work Kills at Modelama Textile Factory

In a report on the death at work of a textile factory worker and subsequent strike in Gurgaon, India.

Submitted by Steven. on March 8, 2011

The following report about the sad death of a garment worker at Modelama factory in Gurgaon was sent by a friend of Gurgaon workers news.

Since then the death of a worker seems to turn into a back-and-forth between different interest groups about the question of compensation. A former MP from Maharashtra, who belongs to the same village as the worker, took a middle-man role.

“At around 3am on the morning of 16th January or, the 15th night’s overtime, 17 and-a-half hours into continuous sewing and stitching for the 21hour shift, sitting on his iron stool, Md. Rabban, died instantly of electrocution through one of the live wires protruding out of the production line in the garment factory, Modelama Exports in Plot no.105-106, Phase 1, Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon.

Md. Rabban, who had been working, sampling, stitching, sewing, washing, ironing and producing clothes for Modelama, for the past more than 7 years and in the 105 unit since its production started three and-half years back, hailed from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, and was paid the measly minimum wage of Rs.4200 (after the cuts for ESI, PF, and the ‘breaks’, from Rs. 4800). As usual, on 15 January also, Rabban reached in the morning 9.30 am shift to start his day on the production line to work till 6.30am the next day, to resume work again at 9.30am. There were two breaks of half-hour each at 1.30-2pm, and then again at 6.30-7 (which workers pay for themselves, and for which wage is deducted from the workers themselves), a dinner break from 8.30-9.30pm (tasteless stale food in the canteen, for which the company pays a mere Rs.20), and then a next chai break at 2.30-3am. Ten minutes later into resuming work, at around 3.10am, in the overtime and already 17 hours into work, one of the live wires protruding out in front of his machine, electrocuted Rabban as his hand was caught in between the line. A number of complaints were regularly made about the safety conditions and specially about the leak in the current in the electric machines in the production line, and nothing as would cost the company was done about it. The usual thing that does get done in such situations by the management is the ‘management’ of the body, i.e. to wipe it out of sight, as workers recall earlier incidents of the sweeper in the morning sweeping out litres of blood on occasions of the death of workers due to over-work, clash with management etc. However, before any such ‘cleansing’ attempt, the around 80 workers in the production line who witnessed the incident, made an uproar, and tried to help their saathi/work-mate. There was a cry for immediately taking Rabban to the hospital, and because the company had neither doctors nor an ambulance for such (frequently occuring) situation, and was also unwilling to spare its own cars, the workers offered to take him themselves to the hospital in a hired car in front of the company and were pooling in the Rs.1500 required for the transport. Sensing the workers reaction, the management (the supervisor and other staff) shut production immediately, took possession of the body, and took him to the hospital where he was declared brought dead, and then to the morgue after post-mortem, and with an rapidity which only came later, also took the body to the Nizamuddin cemetry and buried him. The police was informed and an F.I.R registered under Sec.304-A which declared it a freak ‘accident’.

Meanwhile the workers of the production line, were joined by those coming in for the morning shift, and anger erupted outside the closed gates of the factory, with over a thousand workers pelting stones and breaking the sleek glass front of the company. The low pay, the single overtime, the non-payment of back wages, the no-offs strictness, the continued and regular harassment in the form of abuse and even slaps and beatings, the strong surveillance in the from of finger-print/biometric entry and the CCTV cameras at every nook and line with the suspicion of workers-as-thieves while clearly it is the other way round, all took form in this solidarity action. Workers of other companies in the area going for their morning shifts also joined in to express their solidarity and anger. Police was employed to control the anger, and disperse the angry workers who demanded justice for Rabban.

The company however came out much later, and made an oral statement about the promised payment of Rs. 1lakh to the family of the deceased. And by around 2pm on the 16th, the spontaneous wave of anger was stifled with the threat of police, targetting-and-possible-suspension and management-through-the-family. The next day’s newspapers reported in an insignificant column, an accident in the Modelama company which was resolved. Work remained suspended on the 16th. /on the 17th morning, when workers got back to the company, after some initial tension at the gates, work was resumed. however soon after, in many departments, many workers again took up the previous day’s incident and its sham resolution in a general uproar, which the management stifled with selective representation of some workers, and a promised 50-50 joint-fund of workers and the company’s contribution which will be paid to the family of Rabban. That it was a direct case of negligence of the company was skirted and work was resumed again, not after a fire broke out (it was unclear how, or by whom) in one of the departments which took some time to be doused.

The Modelama Exports unit situated in plot 105-106 in Phase 1, has around 4500 workers, and it is one of its several units in operation in Haryana, Delhi and Chennai. (Plot nos. 105, 106, 184, 200, 201, 204 in Udyog Vihar, Phase-I, 660 in Phase-II, plot nos. 5, 7, 18, 89 in IMT Manesar, one each in Sonipat and Rewari, two- B-33 and B-57 in Okhla Phase-I, and one in Chennai). Selling “the mystifying aura of fashion”, it is a big name in the ready-made garment industry besides expanding into home furnishing, jewellery, energy and real estate. Its chairman, Lalit Gulati was the president of the owners’s association, Apparel Exporters and Manufacturers’ Association. Its production units cover 400,000 sq. feet area, and has a production capacity of 6 million garments per year and a turn over of US $ 60 million. Its ‘vision’ statement says that it seeks to maintain a balance between “ethical values and corporate objectives” and that it “takes pride in the human resource” that it has. It counts its buyers from the US, UK, Canada, Europe and Australia, among them being big corporate players like Gap, Banana Republic, Marks &Spencer, Abercrombie &Fitch, and Country Road. Its main buyer, Gap is a leading member of the ‘Ethical Trading Initiative’ body of Companies, NGOs and trade unions, which ‘promotes ethical trading’ and ’3rd party auditing’ (an industry which recent estimates show has grown to a staggering US $50billion!) and is supposed to have been specifically ‘monitoring’ the 105 unit for ‘workers rights violation’ with a number of complaints earlier. It is another classic case of the exploiter making the rules of violation and monitoring.