Economic disparity and gender inequality deepens as 74 per cent women are paid less than the minimum wage as compared to 45.3 per cent men in India in the garment sector.
An Oxfam report titled, ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ published on January 22, 2018, not only highlighted the economic divide between the rich and the poor but also revealed that there are stark inequalities in women’s pay especially in the garment industry.
The report listed various factors—billionaire boom, low wages and gender inequality—that have contributed to this phenomenon prevalent in the country.
In India, with the rapid decline in workers and trade unions, the wage discrepancies have risen. The report emphasized that this is more apparent in the garment production sector where the workers receive much less than the minimum wage that the employers are required to pay them. In India, one in every two garment workers is paid less than the minimum wage the report stated.
Raju, an activist at the Garment Labour Union in Bangalore, spoke about problems that garment factory workers face in the city. He said that the minimum wage, which is Rs.301 a day, is too little for the garment workers to sustain themselves. He also added that not only do they have to deal with the pressure of production but they also face sexual harassment at the workplace.
He also highlighted that the Factory Act, 1948 states that children from the ages of zero to six should have access to the crèche facility. However, most factories have set the age limit to one and a half years for the child which poses as a difficulty for women workers.
Cividep India, an organization that advocates for worker’s rights and corporate accountability, published a report in October 2017 which revealed that export industries have crèches but mostly for the purpose of fulfilling social audit obligations. Job work and piece work factories have no crèche facilities at all.
It stated that 85 percent of the garment industry workforce comprises of women. The number of workers within an export factory usually ranges from 500-3500; however, factory crèches only have 20-25 children. When the children are over four years, the factories ask the women to take them out of the crèches because they are of school age.
Alex M. Thomas, Professor of Economics at Azim Premji University, on the subject of garment worker’s said, “Although there is a sizeable population of garment workers in Bengaluru, I don’t think their concerns are treated with equal importance as that of the IT workers.”
He said this is indicative of three things: (1) we, as workers, are getting increasingly isolated and individualized, so much so that the concerns of other workers (who indirectly supply our clothing) remain invisible to us; (2) the decline of collective bargaining by workers which get further eroded in most ‘reforms’ of the labour market; (3) a lack of understanding of our own socioeconomic surroundings.
Whereas, Nisha Matthew, the State coordinator for the Domestic Worker’s Movement in Karnataka, said that the situation of domestic workers in Bangalore is not as bad in comparison to garment workers as the former are in great demand. She said, “The Labour Department of Karnataka has set the minimum wage at Rs. 9820 per month for eight hours of work done in a day for a family of four. However, the domestic workers usually get more in the city.”
However, she was quick to mention the several other problems that the domestic workforce faces. Since domestic work falls under the informal sector, they do not get holidays. Even if they do, they have to make up for it either by working extra hours or receive cuts from the paycheck. She also mentioned that young girls miss out on education when their mothers go out to work and they have to take care of the house and younger siblings.
Thomas said, “A free market economic system does not guarantee ‘due’ shares to all of us.”He further said that in addition to factors like caste, gender and class, earnings (or income) also depend on existing wealth. And wealth too is acquired not particularly through hard work but more through luck/chance – a more palatable term than socioeconomic ‘power’.