Tirupur garments cluster employs large number of workers who migrate from 18 southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In the recent past workers from other parts of India, viz. U.P. Bihar, Orissa, Manipur, Nagaland and also from Nepal used to come and work in Tirupur. Women workers are employed in large numbers in exporting units involving them in stitching, folding, checking and packaging jobs. In the knitting and embroidery workshops the share of female workers is less but in a large number of firms they do the checking job. There use to be four basic occupational grades in every unit in Tirupur, viz., helper, machine operator, supervisor and foreman. Vertical mobility is higher in knitting units but workers also choose to shift from working in knitting to dyeing and printing units because knitting job requires relatively hard work. Right to association and other trade union rights, though legally exists but at the enterprise level there is no trade union in Tirupur. However, at the district level at least at the wage negotiation process trade unions use to play a significant role. In regard to benefits, ESI facilities and Provident Fund are provided to a core segment of workers and these facilities are available to not more than 20 per cent of the total workforce. In record shifts are always mentioned as eight hours of work but in actual terms normally it is twelve hours, that is one-and-a-half shift 19
and beyond that although overtime is paid but it is not double wages as stipulated by labour laws. Payment of wages is generally on a weekly basis and in most of the units, as stated by owners’ representatives, it is paid on the basis of minimum wages as declared by the government of Tamil Nadu. However, this is only partially true because there used to be a complex procedure of maintaining records of wages and benefits received by the workers and in most of the cases it is doctored according to the legal liabilities binding upon.
Many employers reported a shortage of labour perceived in recent times, the possible reasons of such shortage of labour might be the following:
a. After the implementation of NREGA and provisioning of rice at Rs.2 per Kg (a special programme run by the Tamil Nadu government) the opportunity cost of working as a migrant worker in garment units have increased and this may have also impacted upon the supply of workers;
b. There are seasonal factors related to agricultural production those influence the employment pattern in Tirupur.
c. Because of appreciation in rupee the export units are hardly hit and also because of the financial crisis in US and Europe both owners and workers anticipated a decline in orders in the near future. This prompted a section of workers not to return back from their villages apprehending decline in job opportunities.
d. Finally over the years there has been a surge of investment in technology in Tirupur. Owners are interested in investing in machines while employing labour at a low wage and that seems to be compatible with the deskilling process. However because of increased opportunities of work even for the unskilled workers, the claim of wages to which they can agree upon to work has increased reflecting in a shortage of labour in the going wage rate. There is at present much talk on social auditing in Tirupur exporting firms. Since the opening of the market in the 1980s and the phasing out of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) between 1995 and 2005, there has been a surge of subcontracting relation across the globe in textile and garment industries that has radically drawn in severe price competition across the globe. On the other hand there has been increasing concern on labour standards in source countries especially from the global buyers and international retail chains. Indeed, because of this external pressure use of child labour has been totally stopped in exporting units if not also in subcontracting 20