Migration

Migration

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The report entitled Garment Workers in India’s Lockdown Semi-Starvation and De-humanisation Lead to Exodus (released in June 2020), which has been prepared by Society for Labour and Development – a Delhi-based NGO – examines how workers and their families coped with adversities during the lockdown despite not being provided any income support by either their employers or the government. The survey by SLD was carried out in the National Capital Region (i.e. in and around Delhi) and Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu. Telephonic interviews of about 100 garment workers, mostly migrants, were conducted during the second half of May, 2020. Almost 72 workers from National Capital Region and 28 workers from Tiruppur participated in the survey. Field-based investigations were also conducted among those workers who returned back to their villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The major findings of the report are as follows (please click here to access):

• Out of 100 garment workers interviewed 57 were women and 43 were men. There were 54 workers (23 men and 31 women) who were permanent and 44 workers were contractual (20 men and 24 women). Two women respondents were home workers. Most of the workers were inter-state migrants and some were intra-state migrants (28 workers). Nearly 69 percent of inter-state migrant workers were from the Northern belt of India, with 49 percent belonging to Bihar alone. The report finds that women in the sample consumed more food vis-à-vis men. It says that this might have happened due to the presence of more number of married females in the sample who had the support of their husbands as opposed to lower number of single male respondents.

• The report says that although the lockdown was imposed towards the last week of March, only one-fifth of workers (19 out of 100 workers) received any form of cash or advance payments. Cash or advance payment was given on the condition of deducting the same from the overtime work the workers would do in future. The payment they received was a meagre sum ranging between Rs. 1,800 and Rs. 10,969 per worker. The permanent workers failed to receive their dues from the garment/ apparel exporters. The contractors abandoned the workers by switching off their mobile phones. The report highlights that the government did not help the workers by providing them income support during the lockdown. During the lockdown crisis, the government only provided Rs. 500 to women who had bank accounts.

• Please note that the government had on March 26th, 2020 declared that an ex-gratia monthly payment of Rs. 500 would be given to women Jan Dhan account holders for the next three months, starting from April. This was part of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.

• The garment workers were not provided any form of income support by either the employer or the government. Since most of the respondents were migrants, they did not have ration card which could have provided them access to subsidised foodgrains from the fair price shops of the Public Distribution System (PDS). The migrants did not possess any proof of their current residential address as they were not given identity cards by the factories where they worked. On top of that, they did not get any receipt from the landlords against the rents they paid. So, they were unable to produce any proof of their current local address. The survey results show that only 20 workers were able to get subsidised foodgrains from the government. Some trade unions and NGOs extended their helping hands and provided cooked food to the garment workers during the lockdown. Out of 97 workers who responded, six hardly had one meal a day while 69 had two meals a day during the lockdown. Two workers said that they had one meal a day usually and sometimes two meals a day. Thus, 82 percent of the workers could afford only two or less number of meals a day during the lockdown. In short, majority of garment workers and their families experienced starvation during that period.

• The reports by SLD finds that most intra-state migrants went back to their nearby villages while the inter-state migrants were stranded in cities or the place where they worked with no income. They faced hunger and starvation. Many used the last of their savings or borrowed money to finance their return back to native place. Estimates show that almost 40 percent of inter-state migrants in Tiruppur went back to their villages/ native place. The field investigation conducted in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh finds that the workers who went back had borrowed money from money lenders at exorbitant interest rate of around 20 percent per month. The migrant workers were afraid that the usurious interest rates might strip them of the meagre property they owned if they fail to repay back. The migrants who went back to their native place said that they felt helpless and were afraid of not being able to survive in their villages. The report states that the lockdown exposed the classist nature of the government since it arranged quick travel facilities for the middle and upper class students although migrants were provided those facilities much later.

• The report mentions that there were instances in which migrants in Tiruppur were kept in the dormitories against their will and were provided poor quality food. They were forced to stay there. There were protests in Tiruppur and some workers were arrested by the police for protesting. Some migrants said that they would not go back for work while others were of the view that they might go back since only a handful of opportunities are available in their villages/ native place. The report cautions that the garment industry might undergo automation and mechanisation due to rise in wages.  Because of demand-supply mismatch in availability of skilled workforce in urban areas, wages are expected to increase. The report says that the lack of income support from employers as well as the government pushed garment workers to face hunger and destitution, besides de-humanising them. As a result, mass exodus of migrants from cities to villages could be observed when the lockdown was imposed.

• The report cites two surveys of garment exporters, which was conducted by the Apparel Export Promotion Corporation in May 2020. Almost 105 and 88 exporters were surveyed during those two surveys. Roughly 83 percent of the respondents said that their orders were either wholly or partially cancelled. On top of that, 72 percent of the respondents said that buyers were not taking responsibility for already purchased materials. About 52 percent of the respondents said that buyers were asking for discounts on already shipped goods. Among the respondents, almost 72 percent highlighted that buyers were asking for a discount of around 20 percent while another 27 percent said that buyers were asking for discounts as high as 40 percent or even more. Almost 88 percent of the exporters expressed their inability to pay wages to their employees.

 

[Balu N Varadaraj and Nabarun Sengupta, who are doing their MA in Development Studies (1st year) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, helped the Inclusive Media for Change team in preparing the summary of the report by Society for Labour and Development. They did this work as part of their summer internship at the Inclusive Media for Change project in June-July 2020.]



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