Rajesh Mandal and Kishan Raj, aged 21 and 20 yrs, have been running around the streets of Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon with hopes of finding a blue-collar job in one of the many bustling garment-manufacturing units of the Millennium City.
“We have been working as part time labourers in private tailoring shops of Bihar, but have come to the capital in search of more secure jobs,” Mandal said.
The duo from Bihar's Sitamarhi district are among the thousands who flock from the hinterland to the high-growth enclaves of Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida for a better life. They are not chasing a chimera. An average garment factory worker in Gurgaon earns about R6,000 a month — a third of it in overtime payments. The textile sector employs close to 35 million people, second only to agriculture in employment generation.
Akash Kumar (name changed) who works as a labourer for Richa & Co, an apparel export unit, spends R1,500 on room rent and even saves about R200 every month.
“This job is my best bet. A few hours of over time each day helps me earn some extra amount,” he adds.
For the high school drop-out, this is better than what others like him earn elsewhere in the country.
Workers like Kumar challenge recurring allegations in Western media — of exploitation, child labour, low wages and poor working conditions.
Only recently the US department of labour put India along with Argentina and Thailand in a list that tracked exploitation of workers.
An investigation by UK’s Observer also found labourers working overtime for up to 16 hours a day for R20 per hour. While such allegations are not dismissed outright, the ground reality does not confirm it either.
Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran told Hindustan Times the seasonal nature of the work involved overtime. “The normal practice in such cases is to pay overtime wages which are twice the normal wages,” he said.
“That said, there are allegations that the provision is not being strictly followed,” the minister said.
Is overtime forced upon the workers?
"No, not at all," said Kumar, insisting that garment workers are in fact keen to work extra hours to earn more. "We get double the wages for extra hours of over time,” confirming the minister’s statement.
But some workers told HT in hushed tones that extra wages apply for only the first two hours of over-time and earnings revert to normal rates later.
Also, workers are told to keep mum on earnings. Several apparel units refused to let HT reporters in to meet workers.