Garment workers still waiting for VDA
About four lakh garment workers of Karnataka, most of them women, continue to wait for their Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA) fixed for the period of 2020-21.
The garment industry is among the 82 scheduled industries that come under the Minimum Wages Act to whom this VDA is applicable. “Except in a couple of garment units where workers are being paid VDA, most workers have been denied the allowance. In fact, VDA has been given in other scheduled industries,” said Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) advisor K.R. Jayaram.
VDA forms an important component for the workers coming under the Minimum Wages Act. However, the State Government had ordered a freeze of VDA of ₹417.60 per month or ₹16.06 a day that was calculated for 2020-2021 based on inflation. The freeze order of July 20, 2020, meant the minimum wage worker would not get VDA between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. This order, however, was stayed by the Karnataka High Court in September 2020. The union has been demanding payment of VDA citing the stay.
However, the Clothing Manufacturing Association of India, the employers’ body, has justified the non-payment of VDA for the period using the turbulence caused by the pandemic and the fact that the matter is pending in court. Association secretary Naseer Humayun said, “Garment companies went through a tough time during the lockdown. The Government, to mitigate the hardship and to save jobs, froze the DA for 2020-21. But the matter was dragged to court and is still pending there.”
When his attention was drawn to the fact that all other scheduled industries have paid VDA, Mr. Naseer said that it was a labour-intensive industry that had to compete with several low-wage countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Ethiopia, among others. “The cost of manpower in the garment industry is about 30% of the revenue, while in other industries it varies between 3% and 6%,” he justified.
The association contended that though the court had stayed the order, there was no direction to the industry to make payment of VDA and that it would be bound by the final orders. The court had also observed that employees can always initiate proceedings in accordance with the law from the date on which the stay was granted by the court. The association, in a communication to its members, also said that unless the court quashes the VDA order, its operation is temporarily kept in abeyance.
Productivity and quality
D.A. Vijaybhaskar, general secretary of AITUC, which is the petitioner in this case in the High Court, said, “There has been no stay on the earlier order of the High Court. The industry and Government are misleading workers on the issue.” On the competitive wages in the garment industry, he said, “Productivity and quality issues plague the garment industry in low-wage countries. The argument for non-payment of VDA to fight competition is not fair.”
In May this year, the GATWU approached the Labour Secretary and said that as per calculations, each worker was to get ₹5,011 for the period between April 2020 and March 2021 as unpaid VDA. The Labour Department is learnt to have not acted on it and also informally asked the union representatives to make a claim before the labour officer. “It is a tough task to make about four lakh workers stake claim individually before the labour officer,” said Mr. Jayaram. The GATWU also wrote to major companies and international brands sourcing apparel from Karnataka, highlighting the issue.