In order to build the collective strength of workers in the garment sector and to ensure for them a life with dignity and security, Garment Labour Union (GLU) and Munnade was established five years ago. To commemorate the five years of their existence, reflect on the journey made, celebrate the success and learn from the challenges and failures faced, Fifth Year Anniversary and International Human Rights Day was observed. GLU and Munnade’s growth was facilitated by other trade unions, civil society organizations and campaigns. The event was also an appropriate platform to acknowledge their support.
Fifty people from trade unions, civil society organizations and garment factories (workers & worker leaders) attended the event on 9th December at Jain College, J.C Road, Bangalore.
A special edition of Labour Behind the Label, the magazine about garment workers’ issues published by Munnade and GLU was released. The speakers included Rukmini V.P from GLU, Akkai Padmashali from Ondede, Anita Cheria from OpenSpace, Geeta Menon from Stree Jagruti Samiti, Nayak K.V from All India Progressive Forum and Suhasini Singh, Board Member of Munnade.
It was highlighted that GLU and Munnade are women-led organizations and the leaders have themselves worked for many years in garment factories. This experience has helped them to build the collective strength of workers in the garment sector and enabling them to obtain rights for a life with dignity and security. This was possible because of GLU’s membership, which is close to two thousand, where the members are women working in the garment factories of various companies.
During 2008-2012, while working in another trade union, the women leaders of GLU and Munnade had to struggle against the male union leaders who crushed their rights. They were also sexually harassed. Having experienced the power of union organizing, the aggrieved women activists fought a legal battle against the perpetuators, came out of the union and formed an independent women-led trade union and a social organization in the garment sector, which is empowering the garment workers. The event helped in recollecting the triumph gained over the oppression of women activists. The conclusion was that GLU and Munnade will strive hard to work for the rights of garment workers.
A similar event was organized by the worker leaders and GLU on 11th December 2016, where 150 garment workers and worker leaders participated. The venue was GLU office at Laggere.
Among the speakers were Yashodha P. H and Saroja. K from GLU, Anita Cheria from Openspace and worker leaders.
They described the work carried out by GLU since its inception in 2011. The work focused on organizing women garment workers to obtain their human rights and entitlements and address the violence, harassment and abuse faced by women garment workers in the factories and at home. The human rights violations experienced by them include labour rights violations- arbitrary termination, low wages, unpaid overtime work, increased work pressure etc. The significance of women workers taking leadership to minimize the human rights violations inflicted upon them was emphasized. Enrolling themselves as members of GLU was crucial for this.
The worker leaders highlighted the human rights violations faced by them in the garment factories and at home. The violations included sexual harassment, low wages, high work load, forced overtime, arbitrary termination of employment, the unannounced closing of factories and layoffs, less time for eating and rest, domestic violence, desertion by spouses etc. They asserted that the wages received by garment workers was very low and demanded a minimum wage of Rs. 18000 per month. This will help them to lead a decent life and they will continue to campaign and advocate obtaining Rs. 18000 as minimum wages.
They acknowledged the support given by GLU to enable them to negotiate with the factory managements and take legal actions to access their rights and entitlements. They gave examples where they were supported to get legally entitled compensation when a factory was shut down. Other examples included negotiations to obtain provident fund, ESI facilities, curbing forced overtime, stopping arbitrary termination, reducing harassments and sexual abuse etc.
It was reiterated that GLU being led by women is helping the workers to collectivize the workers’ strength to protect their human rights.