04/05/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Why This Garment Workers' Protest Was Stitched Together In Secret

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An Indian labourer cuts patterned fabric at the April Cornell clothing factory in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi on October 16, 2012. The April Cornell company exports 50 percent of their clothing and linen production to the USA and Canada, and the rest to European Union countries. India's industrial output picked up pace in August, official data showed, growing 2.7 percent from the same month a year earlier in a better-than-expected but still muted performance. AFP PHOTO/ Andrew Caballero-Reynolds (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

With the denial of rights of workers becoming daily headlines these days, a protest demonstration demanding the payment of minimum wage for garment factory workers in Udyog Vihar, a textile hub, was held on Thursday, 28 April, in Gurugram, Haryana.


Workers sitting in the lawns of the district labour court in Gurugram

The demonstration, which covered other issues as well, was organised by the Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) and it was supported by other trade unions like the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).


Protesting workers

The Haryana government had issued a notification last year regarding an increase in minimum wage, raising it to ₹7,600 for unskilled labour, and more for other categories. However, the implementation of this is still patchy, as an YKA investigation found out earlier this year. Moreover, the companies have allowed contractors to hire workers and pay them which is a bone of contention as many-- especially the daily wage earners--allege that they are paid less than their due. Apart from this, they can be being fired on a whim.

The management acts vindictively if it comes to know of any such activities. This could include "physical violence"...

These two demands were included in the memorandum that GAWU submitted to the senior officials in the labour department of the city, following the protest demonstration.


Ananya Bhattacharya (GAWU) and Satvir Singh (CITU) lead the rally

The demonstration was led by Ananya Bhattacharya, president of GAWU. She explained that the rally was held without prior notice to the police because they were not allowing any demonstrations to be held in the area of late. Instead, the venue and date were revealed to journalists only the night before the event.

"I have received texts at midnight asking for protest demonstrations to be cancelled," Bhattacharya told YKA which too received an email about the protest just the night before. Bhattacharya added that a lack of dialogue between the authorities and the public gave rise to a "dangerous situation."

Garment factories do not have any unions working actively at present, except GAWU, she said.

Highlighting the issues faced by workers in forming a union in the garment factories, she pointed out that the management acts vindictively if it comes to know of any such activities. This could include "physical violence," she claimed. YKA spoke to some of the workers who had assembled for the rally and they confirmed that they had come without informing anyone from the management of their companies. They added that they were worried about the management getting to know of their participation in the protest.


The rally in full force

The workers were addressed by Satvir Singh, senior leader of the CITU, before they marched to the office of the Additional Labour Commissioner to submit the memorandum. Singh told YKA that initially, it was decided by an advisory group formed by the previous Haryana government that an unskilled worker should be paid ₹15,000. However, the government decided to make it ₹ 7,600. "Even that is not being paid to them. Also, the state government has amended three labour legislations recently which will have an adverse effect on workers," Singh claimed.

Gunjan Singh, a lawyer who takes up cases of garment factory workers, told YKA that at present, the majority of his briefs were about alleged non-payment of dues and unfair termination from service. "Issues of minimum wage are yet to be taken up in large numbers in the courts here," he said.

To know more, read about How 20,000 Textile Workers In Haryana Are Living A Life Close To Hell: YKA Report.

This article was originally published here on Youth Ki Awaaz.

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