*** Small Upsurge of ‘Spontaneous’ Collective Actions by Garment Export Workers in Okhla, Gurgaon, Manesar –
In the following we document seven short reports on collective wildcat action by workers in the garment export industry in March 2011. The strikes happened on the background of the Delhi government having increased the minimum wage on 1st of February 2011: from 5,200 Rs to the new Delhi minimum wage of 6,084 Rs for helpers, and from 6,000 to 7,410 for skilled workers. We can briefly derive three conclusions: workers don’t have and do not need an institutional union frame work to impose themselves; the structural weakness of the sector leads to a quick lash-back from the employers which can only be countered by coordinated organised efforts, e.g. when the company relocates work; piece-workers have frequently been able to impose higher rates by strike action, but we have only witnessed strikes of (monthly/daily) waged workers ‘on a mass scale’ when the official minimum wage has been increased; so far there hasn’t been a general ‘wage strike’ of that dimension without the impulse of the government increasing the rate; to our knowledge (monthly/daily) waged workers had to rely either on frequent job changes or sporadic strikes to ‘improve’ conditions; the general tendency is: increasing pressure on wages through global competition and introduction of ‘chain system’ (division of labour and mechanisation).
Om Jyoti Apparels Worker
(B-241, Okhla Phase I)
When the company gave out the two slips with overtime and attendance on 4th of March we became aware of the fact that the company will pay according to the old rate of 5,278 Rs (6,448 Rs). We demanded to be paid the new rate of 6,084 Rs (7,410 Rs). The management kicked out four workers from the factory. The mood was down… On 5th of March after the noon break we stopped production in the factory. In the finishing department there are 4 – 5 ‘incharges’ (department foremen), we encircled them and in order to escape from our anger they took refuge in the general managers office. The son of the chairman, he is the director, then said that the government had not sent the documents with the new pay rate yet and that the company will pay the new rate in March and also the area bonus for February. The company started relocation production work to NOIDA (a close by industrial area, but part of Uttar Pradesh, where the minimum wage is considerably lower). Saying that there is no more work the company dismissed 35 tailors on 15th of March and 16 workers of the cutting and finishing department on the 23rd of March… there are 250 workers left at Om Jyoti Apparels, out of which only 50 get ESI and PF.
(B-61, Okhla Phase I)
The company paid the old minimum wage rate in February. On 11th of March workers stopped work for half an hour in order to protest. On 12th of march, when workers again stopped production after two hours the management put up a notice saying that in March the new rate will be paid and that the February area bonus will also be paid.
(F-8, Okhla Phase I)
On 28th of February during the lunch break all workers assembled in front of the factory. They started shouting that they want to be paid the new rate. The management arrived at the gate and gave assurances that the new rate will be paid. Workers said that instead of some verbal assurances they wanted something in written. The bosses demanded that some representatives should come forward in order to negotiate. Us 700 workers said that we don’t have any representatives. The workers did not take up work… After one hour the company put up a notice saying that it will pay the new rate. (Translation from ‘Nagrik’ 16 – 31 March issue)
Shahi Export Worker
(F-88, Okhla Phase I)
In the factory there are more than 5,000 sewing machines. Most of the workers are female. When they announced the new rate the commotion amongst the workers increased. The company then put up a notice saying that the new rate will be paid.
(D-30, Okhla Phase I)
The company kicked out a few tailors on 25th of March after 15 days of employment. There was resistance. They then were paid their outstanding wage according to the new rate of 7,410 Rs.
Edigear International – Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Benetton Worker (Garments)
(Plot 150, sector IV, IMT Manesar)
We start working at 9:30 am and punch out at 6 pm ‘for show’ and for the official documents, actually work continues. At night from 8:45 to 9:00 pm there is a meal break, then we work till 1 am, often till 5 am. During January, February till the 18th of March 650 tailors, 100 cutters and 350 workers in the finishing department turned day and night into one. The tailors work till 1 am every other day, the 80 women workers stay from 9:30 am till 8 pm and Sundays from 8 am till 6 pm. In the finishing department the male workers worked till 1 am every night, on 14 days per months they worked till next day 5 am. In January the pressmen worked from 9:30 am till 5 am next day on 26 days. You have to turn up after your 4 1/2 hours break and start again at 9:30 am. After Holi only 11 out of 19 pressmen returned, some had fallen ill. After Holi 300 tailors, 100 finishing department worker and 40 cutters did not come back to work. We manufacture stuff for Adidas, Puma, Reebok and Benetton and there is a great demand, but currently a great lack of workers. There is no canteen in the factory. If we work till 1 am we are paid only 25 Rs extra for food, if till 5 am only 40 Rs. They should pay at least 50 Rs and 100 Rs for full-night food money. Workers currently refuse overtime and they say that the company should increase the wages, so that more workers will come and work. The workload is enormous and wages are paid delayed. On 14th of March, after February wages had not been paid, workers went inside the factory, to their workplaces, but workers did not start work, in any department. They had agreed on that amongst each other. On the next day, the 15th of March, workers again went inside, but did not move a finger. The general manager and the managing director promised that wages would be paid by the 18th of March, so work was resumed on the 16th. The bosses were told that if wages would be delayed again, people would look for a different job and they would have to find new workers. Now they said that they will pay punctually on the 7th of the month.
(Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon)
One month before Diwali the company dismissed 90 per cent of all workers in the factories on Plot 153 and 210 in Phase I, on Plot 224 in Phase IV and Plot 540 in Phase V, Gurgaon. In this way the company managed since 2008 not to pay the annual statutory bonus to 90 per cent of the workforce. In response on 14th, 15th and 16th of March workers in the Sargam factories stopped working and demanded the bonus. In the plant on Plot 210 on 16th of March at 1:30 to 2:30 pm, when production was still interrupted, management said that it will give a written announcement for the payment of the bonus. Now, on 24th of March the bosses say that they will kick everyone out tomorrow, on the 25th of March…