Garment workers in India's Tamil Nadu district have won an increase of up to 64% in wages – the first for 12 years - thanks to a court order, and despite protests by apparel factory owners claiming the industry is already struggling. 

The Madras High Court ordered the wage hike late last month. Under the ruling, workers will see their wages rise to a monthly average of Rs 8480 (US$127) for a skilled cutter, and Rs 7201 ($107) for an unskilled worker.

The decision by the court meant it dismissed petitions from around 550 clothing manufacturers and exporters who claimed that increasing wages would be "practically impossible" to introduce given "the tough global market conditions".

In 2012, the government formed an advisory committee and in October 2014, a government order announced new minimum wages revision for the region's tailoring industry. 

But while garment factory owners maintain the industry is struggling, union leaders continue to argue that a number of factories where trade unions exist already pay a minimum wage of Rs 10,000 or above, and still manage to make a profit.

IndustriALL Global Union said of the news: "Years of struggle for Tamil Nadu garment workers paid off when the Madras High Court's dismissed about 550 petitions filed by garment employers opposing a government order to increase the minimum wages for tailoring industry workers."

However, despite the court verdict, unions say implementation of the new wages remains "a major concern" due to a large number of workers not being aware of the wage revision. A loophole created when the Tamil Nadu government announced a different set of "very low minimum wages" for the hosiery industry in January, means employer can avoid paying higher wages, the unions add. 

"Most of the government workers are precarious workers employed on piece rate and weekly wages with no regular employment contract," explains Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL Global Union South Asia regional secretary. "As employers do not regularise the employment of precarious workers, they are forced to shift from one factory to other factories frequently. Trade union presence in the garment factories in Tamil Nadu is also very low as employers strongly resist the formation of unions.

"Together these factors pose challenges for workers to get statutory minimum wages and arrears. It is imperative that we organise strong trade unions among garment workers to ensure that the new provisions are implemented." 

The Garment and Fashion Workers Union (GFWU), which it says played "a crucial role" in representing workers, welcomed the court verdict and called for the implementation of the high court order in letter and spirit.

"Irrespective of the fabric they are working, all tailoring workers should be considered on par and minimum wages should be implemented equally for all workers."