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The daily wage workers employed in factories have hit the hardest due to the COVID-19 crisis.
About 1300 workers employed in a garment factory in Karnataka's Mandya district were rendered jobless after sudden closure of the factory. The workers learnt about their job losses when they saw a notice stuck on a factory wall, that said, they no longer had their jobs and that they would be paid half of their wages.
Euro Clothing Company-II works in conjunction with Gokaldas Exports. The company manufacture clothes for brands from leading Indian retailers as well as brands from Europe and the United States but have reportedly witnessed a reduction in the orders placed by international retailers.
On June 6, their factory unit in Mandya was shut down with merely a notice stuck on the factory wall informing the workers that they had lost their jobs and would be paid half of their wages. The notice cited coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the manufacturing industry as the reason for laying off the workers, The News Minute reported.
Left with no choice but to protest to an unannounced dismissal, the factory workers, especially women reportedly visit the factory premises every day and sit-in protest against the decision of Gokaldas Exports.
"We are living on borrowed money. We have been unable to get other jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. We have to borrow money to pay our rent and feed our children," said Lakshamma, one of the factory workers.
"We are valued only if we are working but when the work stops, we are not valued," she added.
According to the workers, they were paid half of their wages in April and had returned to work on May 4, when the lockdown restrictions were eased in the country.
Workers also said that the employees were laid-off without a warning, following which a tripartite negotiation process involving the Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU), officials from Gokaldas Exports, and labour department officials in Mandya.
Sireesh Kumar, Deputy General Manager of Compliance at Gokaldas Exports said that they have not arrived at any decision and also refrained from discussing the details of the negotiation with the media. He further added that the organisation will be sharing the statement once the talks are finalised.
Reportedly, the shut unit often made products for Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), a globally recognised clothing retailer. Labour activists informed that a majority of the products manufactured in the Euro Clothing Company - II unit were H&M products, in the previous year.
"We are deeply concerned about the developments and are acutely aware that garment workers are in an extremely vulnerable situation. However, at this point, our orders at this specific supplier are on similar levels as during the same period last year. We are also fulfilling our payments for goods in accordance with contracts, on time and at the originally agreed price," said an H&M spokesperson.
The international clothing brand also said that the conflict between the supplier and the trade union is due to 'different interpretations of the national law' and they are working closely with both the parties to resolve the conflict peacefully.
"We will come here (to the factory) every morning and leave every evening (protesting). It has been 19 days already and we will go on until we are paid our due wages and the factory is reopened," Lakshmamma said.
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