37 year old Yamuna, worker, mother and union member of Garment Labour Union (GLU), testified about a factory producing for the middle man Bombay Rayon’s Fashions Ltd. which supplies to Gap, H&M, Abercrombi and Fitch, and Armani:
‘When I joined the industry, I was 14 years old and started earning to support my mother. As a helper my wage at that time was Rs.317/-. I was getting 75 paise for each hour of overtime. I joined another factory as tailor and I was getting Rs.1000/-. Later I changed factories about three times. In 2001 I joined Vidya creation, a unit of Texport Overseas group of Companies.
I was not allowed to take my 6 month old baby to a factory crèche. After a long time, I got permission to take my child to the crèche, though the condition there was very bad. The Production Manager was very rude. He used to make us stand near the table for more than a week if we took leave without notice. He used to scold and scream in vulgar language. We were not able to see the day light at all, since we were working over time without wage till late evening. One day, I passed a garment piece without cutting the extra small threads. He called me and said ‘Have you forgotten to wear your saree [clothes red.] today..? If not.. How can you forget to cut the thread..?’ I was shocked and felt ashamed that day.
The wage was very low; I could not feed my 3 children even with just milk and bread. My daughter asked me one day, ‘why you gave birth to me if you are not able to feed me properly’. I pledged my Mangalasutra [wedding necklace red.] to pay my children school examination fees.
I was introduced to an organization called Cividep. Through that organization, I was sensitized on labour law, women’s rights and gender issues. One day, we got a chance to meet Secretary of Karnataka Womens’ commission. We shared all violations and harassment that were happening inside the factory. She took a strong step and finally we succeeded to send the person in charge out of the factory.
But our problems did disappear after that. A new manger, who was much more harsh, joined the factory as PM [production manager red.]. He singled me out to harrass, since I started giving awareness to my co-workers. He harassed me by fixing high production target everyday, which was impossible for me to meet. By that time, I was also suffering from tuberculose. For not reaching the target, he asked a security guard to push me out holding the neck. I was really upset and decided to end my life and teach him a lesson. Next day, I brought all my children to factory along with a full can of kerosene, and tried to burn myself in front of the factory. Though I tried to attempt suicide, my friends, union activists did not allow to happen.
Then I gave resignation to that factory and joined BRFL 5th Unit. But, bad luck followed me there too. Some of my earlier management people shifted to new factory as Managers. But by that time, I was bit more strong. One of my co-workers had died in a mishap just in front of our factory from the factory bus itself. The management tried to close the issue and said, ‘we will not throw Rs.5000/- on a dead body. This made all the workers very angry. Everyone came out of the factory and blocked the highway for hours together. Finally, the management paid the compensation.
After this incident, management was very consciously avoiding me to speak with other workers. When I questioned on illegal termination of a worker, they made me sit near an HR cabin. A security guard was assigned to watch me even when I went to the toilet. They were not allowing me to have lunch with other workers, so my lunch break time was different from the others. Eleven workers were suspended on this issue for supporting me. Later by intervention of the brands, our suspension was taken back, but we were placed in different corners of the factory. My wage was always low than others though I am a feeding operator, which is high skilled work on the floor.
When there was some argument going on between me and the supervisor, he tried to take my punching card from my neck. My mangalasutra [wedding necklace red.] got cut along with that. My co-workers opposed to this, but I was beaten but one of the lady supervisor. The police people refused to lodge the complaint and advised to resolve it inside the factory since it was an internal issue. So, we came back. Next day police arrested us on the basis of management’s complaint. We were shocked by this. But we received the bail with the support of a lawyer and the union. The factory started an enquiry on this. After one year of that, we received notice from the court. I am really upset by this. Being common workers, doing no harm to anyone, myself and other workers asked to stand on the court.
The management never wanted us. They didn’t want a union presence or a union members presence in the factory. Many times they sent away many workers with different reasons to close the factory. In the beginning the strength of our factory was 3000, which is now 30. Now the factory is shifted to a different place. Us thirty are together, until we don’t have work to do. Now they are proposing to close the factory. We are still unsecured with our jobs. This is because we have no money, no influence and no judicial support.’