Human rights group analyses the garment workers’ protest in Bengaluru

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Karnataka and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression Karnataka released their joint fact-finding report on the garment workers strike of April 18 and 19 2016.

The report, titled Thread and Tension- an account of the historic uprising of garment workers, was launched jointly by Rangamma from the BBMP Contract Powrakarmika Workers’ Union, Bhagya from Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU), Pushpa from the Stree Jaagruti Samiti (Domestic Workers’ Rights Union), and Rukmini, an Anganwadi teacher.

The report release was preceded by a panel discussion, moderated by Kavita Srinivas of PUCL, where the panelists spoke of their experiences as women workers and the struggles they experience in organising and fighting for their rights.

Bhagya from GATWU spoke of the difficulties that garment workers face if they join unions, and how they are targeted at their workplaces and threatened with dismissal. Rangamma agreed and spoke of how, after the protest by Powrakarmikas on March 8, 2017, many workers got their wage arrears, but because she is identified as a union leader, she was given lesser arrears than the others.

Rukmini spoke of how the Anganwadi teachers could gain success due to unionisation. Pushpa of the Stree Jaagruti Samiti (Domestic Workers’ Rights Union) said that many women struggle between the work and their domestic chores, as they are expected to do both. The speakers concluded by agreeing that unionisation was important to enable workers to unite and fight for their rights.

The anatomy of protests

In April, 2016, lakhs of workers of the garment industry took to Bangalore streets to protest against a new Central Government Ordinance on the Employment Provident Fund. The protest was spontaneous, sudden, and unplanned, and took place over April 18th and 19th. Most of the participants and leaders
were women workers. The protest was triggered by a newspaper article in Vijaya Karnataka – a Kannada daily – that appeared on April 16th, 2016. The resulting demonstration was a landmark event, as it led
the Central Government to withdraw the ordinance, thus benefiting lakhs of salaried workers across the country.

Immediately after the strike, the Garment and Texile Workers’ Union (GATWU) – the leading garment workers’ union in Bangalore – approached People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Karnataka (PUCL-K) and Women and Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) with a request to conduct an investigation into the two-day strike. Accordingly, a team comprising members of the two organizations and other independent researchers was constituted.

This report is an inquiry into the garment workers’ protest in Bangalore, the developments that led up to the tumultuous events of April 18-19 as well as its aftermath, the underlying issues that came to the fore, as well as the wider significance of a spontaneous protest demonstration by women workers that compelled the central government to concede their demands.

The report outlines the dynamics behind garment industry, the feminisation and exploitation of workforce in the industry, poor amenities, salary and increment policies and the unrest that brewed inside the circles of workers regarding the government’s EPF notification. Then it moves on to how the protests were triggered by a newspaper report, and how it turned into violence, the police action, arrests and harassment by police, and the aftermath. Problems in filing FIRs, factual inconsistencies, the public opinion on the protests, media coverage of the protests, problems that the proposed EPF rule would have caused etc have been dealt with in detail. Here is the copy of the report.

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Note: This is a curation of the press note sent by Alternative Law Forum.

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