The Garment and Fashion Workers’ Union (GAFWU), which is affiliated to global union IndustriAll through Unions United are said to have staged a protest outside the labour commissioner’s office on 12 February for a new minimum wage.

IndustriAll explained the last time the Tamil Nadu state revised its minimum wage was a decade ago, in 2014, despite state governments in India being required to increase the minimum wage every five years under the the Minimum Wages Act.

IndustriAll added the increase was never implemented because over 500 manufacturers took the matter to court, claiming it would be practically impossible to pay the new wage.

Indian National Textile Workers Federation (INTWF) general secretary V.R. Jaganathan said: “Minimum wages in India are low and poorly implemented, which has a negative influence on workers and their ability to lead a decent life. We must prioritise living wages and ensure their effective implementation in all states.”

IndustriAll claimed that currently garment workers in Tamil Nadu earn in the range of INR9,875 ($119) to INR10,514 ($127). But with the implementation of the new minimum wage, the monthly wage would range between INR15,211 ($183) and INR16,379 ($197).

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Why was the wage increase stalled?

IndustriAll highlighted that in 2016, the Indian court ruled in favour of garment workers, affirming the wage notification. The court reportedly mandated that manufacturers immediately pay the revised wage, along with an inflation-linked allowance and back wages from December 2014.

However, IndustriAll suggested the new wage was yet again not implemented because manufacturers filed several suits at the Supreme Court.

IndustriAll said when the filed petition was heard in November last year, the Supreme Court observed the state government’s inaction to revise the wages of garment industry workers, for the last nine years.

It added the court has reportedly directed the state to take corrective measures immediately.

Given inaction on part of the state government, IndustriAll said the case was brought back to the Supreme Court’s attention through a special application by GAWU earlier this month (6 February).

The organisation claims the union members present noted the judge was “appalled” to see the revised wage notification had not yet been issued by the state.

IndustriAll pointed out that in response to the protesting workers’ demand, the deputy commissioner of labour assured workers the wage would be determined in accordance with the draft notification of 2014, before the next Supreme Court hearing.

Unions United convener and member of IndustriALL’s executive committee Gautam Mody said: “Workers at the bottom end of the pyramid are being pushed to the wall while employers walk away with profits and governments just look the other way. 

“We need stronger and more robust mechanisms to deliver a just minimum wage to stop wage arbitrage in the global supply chain.”

IndustriAll general secretary, Atle Høie echoed a similar sentiment and added: “The Indian government must force the new minimum wage on the industry. It is appalling that industry can get away with this obstruction for so many years. IndustriAll calls for immediate action to ensure disbursement of rightful wages of workers which has been denied to them.”

The Ministry of Labour (Government of Tamil Nadu), Tamil Nadu Labour Welfare Board and Chief Labour Commissioner Officer (Government of India) had not responded to Just Style’s request for comment at the time of going to press.

In January it was reported that Bangladesh garment factories had terminated the employment of hundreds of workers following protests for higher wages last October.

This article was first published by IndustriAll.