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Friday, February 23, 2024

Workers leave Indian textiles hubs as low wages as mills work at 60 percent capacity

In medium and large-scale textile mills, Human Resource (HR) managers fear absenteeism due to low wages and general distress. They apprehend if the workers move out and garment orders revive in January, the immediate challenge will be manpower across the value chain.

The Textiles Committee says a study reveals that due to declining exports, flat wages, and increased imports, as many as 2.14 lakh employment opportunities were lost in the sector between 2015 and 2020, which was the pre-COVID-19 period.

India’s textile and apparel sector,  the country’s second-largest employer, accounting for 45 million direct jobs, faces severe challenges as its Vulnerable workers are exposed to the fragile ecosystem in which they operate. The slowdown in the sector has kept wages flat and deprived workers of traditional incentives, pushing arguably lakhs of them into hunting for jobs elsewhere. A sweeper at one of the garment factories in Tiruppur who took home ₹15,000 as a bonus last year received less than a third (₹4,500) this year.

In Palladam, Velusamy, a power loom weaver, paid ₹2.5 lakhs bonus to 16 workers and operated 30 looms in 2022. In the past three months, he sold 20 looms and now employs only one worker to man the remaining ten looms and paid his employee ₹11,000 as a bonus this year. He says the workers took ₹ seven lakhs advance from him and are ready to work to repay the amount. But, he does not have orders to give them jobs.

Workers from other states who came to work in the textile hubs of India are leaving for their home states as their salaries are not enough to send money back home. As the work has slowed, there has been no overtime or bonuses.

P.R. Natarajan, general secretary of Tiruppur District, All India Trade Union Congress, says there has been almost 40 percent job loss in the garment export units in Tiruppur in the last six months. The (business) owners say they get only 60 percent of the work.

Garment factories in Bengaluru need more workers as many have switched to working at shopping malls and metro rail stations. Almost 90 percent of workers at garment factories in Karnataka are women. They receive minimum wages and no incentives. They prefer jobs that pay better and “where there is no harassment.

The distress extends to allied activities. Selvaraj has operated a mini truck for almost two decades, transporting textile goods at Palladam. His earnings have more than halved from ₹7,000 to ₹3,000 a week. Those renting godowns to textile producers to store their products cannot get occupants.

Reasons for this widespread distress in the textile sector include loss of orders for garment units, slump in rates for fabric weavers and spinners, and import of value-added products. The industry faces multi-dimensional challenges: lack of data on the impact of the slowdown on workers and wages in the post-COVID years, including those in the cottage and micro industries; vast differences in labor profiles and systems between organized and unorganized sectors; migration of workers to better-paying jobs if prospects do not improve for the textiles sector; and lower labor costs are other textile exporting nations affecting Indian exporters who compete on prices in the global market.

The mills try to maintain a core workforce. It is a productivity game, and HR managers are trying to improve facilities to retain workers. However, in smaller units, where sustaining business has been challenging, workers have shifted to other sectors.

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