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Women Employees in Tamil Nadu Factories: Lawful Intentions vs Unlawful Pretentions

CASE STUDY, HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
ET Cases, 18 pages
AUTHOR(S) : Syed Abdul Samad and Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Case Preview

Women Employees in Tamil Nadu Factories: Lawful Intentions Vs Unlawful Pretentions

On June 10th 2014, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Allaince (NDA) government initiated action on the labour law reforms. The labour ministry sought suggestions from all stakeholders, including industries, trade unions and experts, on its proposal to amend the 66- year-old Factories Act, 1948. On the same day, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan had approved amendments to three key labor laws—Industrial Disputes Act, Factories Act and Contract Labour Act. However, in August 2014, the proposal to allow women to work in the night shift was opposed by Mahila Congress (women’s wing of the Indian National Congress) and the All India Trade Union Congress citing their concerns over the safety, security and health of women workers, especially when crimes against women were escalating.

In October 2008, the Ministry of Labour and Employment had proposed few amendments to the Factories Act, 1948, but the proposed amendments had not passed the parliamentary muster until October 2014. The proposed amendments included improved safety of workers, increased penalty for violation of the Act and relaxing the norms for women to work in night shifts.

The Factories Act, 1948, banned companies from employing women during night shifts. But the garment manufacturing factories and textile mills in Tamil Nadu (located in Tirupur, Coimbatore, Erode and Salem districts) were employing women. More than half of the workforce consisted of girls and women aged between 14 and 25 years, as they could be employed at a low-cost in the companies. While the textile/garment business was flourishing with growing exports, several other allegations – ranging from exploitation to apathy – were on the rise. The industry had been facing severe criticisms for its non-compliance of laws. With the new amendments proposed to Factories Act, 1948, allowing the companies to employ women during night shifts, with Madras High Court’s guidelines (circa 2000; R.Vasantha), will it be a bane or boon for women workers? Would the exploitation stop or would it increase? How can the government ensure its implementation and compliance by the industry players?..................

Tamil Nadu’s Garment Industry/Textile Mills: A Land of Hopes or a Mine of Human Abuses?

India is the second largest producer of textiles and garments after China. Within India, the South-Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been the nerve centre for the textile industry, with Tirupur as its hub since 1870s. With India opening its doors to liberalization in the early 1990s there has been a steady transformation in India’s Textile industry. Tirupur became the centre for garment production and export for global markets – mostly for European and US brands and retailers, including C&A, Diesel, Phillips-Van Heusen (Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen, IZOD, Arrow, etc.), Quicksilver, Primark, Decathlon, etc...........

Home Workers vs Factory Workers

The manufacturers/mills employed two types of employees – those employed within the factories and manufacturing units; and homeworkers. Factory workers were those who worked within the factory premises and Home workers were those who manufactured garments (stitching, checking finished garments, power loom, attaching sequins, waste separation, kaja buttons, etc.) at their homes and were paid per piece. Often, garment production at home was the only option available to the poor women with little education or training, and could be done while taking care of children and domestic responsibilities............

Sumangali Scheme: In Whose Interest?

A major exploitation of young women workers happens through the Sumangali scheme, which originated in the late 1990s. Through this scheme, young women (18 years or younger) were hired on a three-year contract period with a promise to pay a lump sum (25,000 to 50,000) at the end of the term along with monthly stipend (after deducting the expenses for hostel and meals). Poverty stuck families where agriculture does not fulfil their minimum needs, send their daughters to jobs in textile mills under the scheme. This became popular, as it seemed to be a win-win situation for all – parents received a sizeable amount to marry off their daughter and factories got workers willing to work continuously at lesser pay than their male counterparts..............

Discriminatory Practices: Many forms, One Intent?

Sachithanandan, a researcher said, “All the women workers are forced to work. They are verbally abused (82 per cent) and physically abused (19 per cent). None of them have any rest during working hours.” In few mills the scheme broke not only the local law, but voluntary codes and international workers’ rights conventions................

Women Workers in India: Wilful Laws and Unwilling Compliance?

The Factories Act, 1948, was introduced primarily to provide safety, health and welfare of the workers employed in factories. The Act was enacted by the Central Legislature, but the state governments/union territory administrations were empowered to make rules and bring them into effect. The Act was applicable to industrial establishments wherein manufacturing was taken up with 10 or more people with the aid of power or 20 or more people without the aid of power, working on any day in the preceding 12 months.............

Safety at Indian Factories: Miles to Go?

This is not just the plight of women working in textile industry but other industries as well. In the report presented by the Parliamentary standing committee on labour, it is mentioned that in the glass bangle factories of Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, there were no lunch breaks; furnaces kept burning; factories were filthy, the condition of workers miserable, and accidents were common. Automobile plants, pharmaceutical companies and even Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were not clean of such instances.............

Amendments to the Factories Act, 1948: Boon or Bane?

The Factories Act, 1948, a Central Act enforced by state governments, is an Act to regulate workers (working conditions, workers’ safety, grievances, etc.) in factories. This Act was last amended in 1987 after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy – a gas leak incident (considered the world’s worst industrial disaster) at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL – a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company since 2001) pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, in December 1984..............

Assignment Questions

I. What factors do you think are responsible for the majority of women being employed in the Textile industry in Tamil Nadu? What factors are responsible for the textile industry players to flout the laws and rules?

II. Why is it that, despite there being many laws in India to protect women’s rights and safety, women are being exploited (financially/sexually) at workplaces or outside? Why do you think, women workers’/ employees’ safety seems to be compromised, albeit in few instances but frequently? Who do you hold responsible for this unjust treatment of women workers in the country?

III. ...............

Exhibits

Exhibit I: India’s Textile Exports

Exhibit II: Percentage of Women Workers in Apparel Industry in 2009-2010

Exhibit III: Structure of the Garment Industry in India

Exhibit IV: A Young Girl Employed to Make Victoria's Secret Lingerie

Exhibit V: Children in Employment in India

Exhibit VI: Girls and Boys Rescued by SAVE

Exhibit VII: Provisions of Factories Act, 1948

Exhibit VIII: Men Vs Women Employment in India

Exhibit IX: Women Labor Workers in India

Exhibit X: Instances of Crime Against Women in India

Exhibit XI: Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution

Exhibit XII: Key Points of the Proposed Amendments in Factories Act, 1948

Annexures

Annexure I: Guidelines and Welfare Measures for the Female Workers

Annexure II: Classification of Various Labor Laws in India

Teaching Note Preview

Women Employees in Tamil Nadu Factories: Lawful Intentions Vs Unlawful Pretentions

 

Synopsis

This case study enables a discussion on the health and safety of the workers in manufacturing units in general and women employees working in the textile factories and mills in particular. The Factories Act, 1948, banned companies from employing women during night shifts. But the garment manufacturing factories and textile mills in Tamil Nadu employed women, mostly aged between 14 and 25 years, at very low wages. Non-compliance of laws and exploitation of women workers was widely reported in these factories and the industry was facing severe criticism.

In October 2008, with Madras High Court’s guidelines (circa 2000; R.Vasantha), the Ministry of Labour and Employment had proposed few amendments to the Factories Act, 1948, which included improved safety of workers and norms for women to work in night shifts. But, in August 2014, the move to allow women to work in the night shift was opposed by Mahila Congress (the women’s wing of the Indian National Congress) and the All India Trade Union Congress. Would the new amendments allowing the companies to employ women during night shifts, will be a bane or boon for women workers? Would the exploitation stop or would it increase? How can the government ensure its implementation and compliance by the industry players?

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding (PCU)/Before the Classroom Discussion

A working knowledge along with the business implications of the following concepts would enable an effective discussion leading to more practical solutions than a mere intellectual exercise. The participants were asked to read the following to help them connect the concepts:

  • 1. Gary Dessler and Biju Varkkey, “Chapter 2: Employment Law in India and the United States”, Human Resource Management, 12th Edition (Indian Adaptation), Pearson Education, Inc., 2011 – To understand the fundamental rights, rights against exploitation and constitutional provisions in India under the labor/factory laws and acts and their applicability in the Indian manufacturing firms; and how women labor are exploited with the non-compliance of laws
  • 2. Gary Dressler and Biju Varkkey, “Chapter 16: Employee Safety and Health”, Human Resource Management, 12th Edition (Indian Adaptation), Pearson Education, Inc., 2011 – To understand the labor/factory laws and acts in India and their applicability in the Indian manufacturing firms and how the labor/workers are exploited with their non-compliance
  • • Occupational Health and Safety in India
  • • Cause of Accidents at Work Places
  • • Occupational Security
  • 3. In addition, students were asked to observe and identify the workers/labor exploitation happening in and around their homes/institutions and the generally prevalent working conditions/benefits given at the workplace. If possible, they can visit any manufacturing unit to carry out these observations

 

Expected Learning Outcomes

At the end of this case analysis and discussion, the participants (students) were expected to understand the implications/able to answer the questions that would expend their horizons of the Laws and Acts prevalent in India and their compliance (from the HRM perspective):

  • • An overview of slew of Laws and Acts prevalent in India to safeguard women’s rights and dignity at workplace, taking cognizance of Article 15(3) of the Indian constitution
  • • The current state of women worker’s health and safety record at Tamil Nadu’s garment industry/textile mills in the light of several related laws
  • • The implementation and compliance of the proposed amendments to Factories Act 1948 with reference to women working during night shifts and its effect on textile mills’ women workers

 

Positioning/Case Setting

This case study can be used for either of the following modules/topics in the Human Resource Management Course:

  • • Occupational Health and Safety Laws in India –To understand the labor/factory laws and acts in India and how companies exploit workers by non-compliance of laws
  • • Safety and Security of Employees – The prerequisites for companies to have a crime prevention plan and other security programs
  • • Workplace Health Hazards and Accidents – To understand the need for hygiene and safety of the workers and the cause of accidents at workplace and the remedies

 

Assignment Questions

  • I. What factors do you think are responsible for the majority of women being employed in the Textile industry in Tamil Nadu? What factors are responsible for the textile industry players to flout the laws and rules?
  • II. Why is it that, despite there being many laws in India to protect women’s rights and safety, women are being exploited (financially/sexually) at workplaces or outside? Why do you think, women workers’/employees’ safety seems to be compromised, albeit in few instances but frequently? Who do you hold responsible for this unjust treatment of women workers in the country?
  • III. ...........................

 

Suggested Orchestration

The classroom discussion was facilitated under three broad sections as explained in Exhibit (TN)-I. And the classroom discussion and analysis for this case study could be summarized through the Board Plan [Exhibit (TN)-II].............

Exhibits

Exhibit (TN)-I: Classroom Discussion – Suggested Plan

Exhibit (TN)-II: The Board Plan

Exhibit (TN)-III: Enforcement of Laws in India

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Abstract


This case study, mapped for Employee Safety in HRM course, is structured around women employees of Tamil Nadu's garment industry and textile mills. Tirupur-Coimbatore-Erode-Salem districts together formed a thriving textile hub and while business grew in these districts, the allegations - ranging from exploitation to apathy - have also been on rise. These four districts employ more than 500,000 women workforce and have been facing severe criticisms for their non-compliance of laws, especially related to women safety at their workplaces. With the new amendment proposed to Factories Act 1948, allowing the companies to employ women during night shifts, with Madras High Court's guidelines (in circa 2000; R.Vasantha), will it be a bane or boon for women workers in these four districts? Would the exploitation stop or would it increase?



Pedagogical Objectives

  • To have an overview of slew of Laws and Acts prevalent in India to safeguard women's rights and dignity at workplace, taking cognizance of article 15(3) of the Indian Constitution
  • To examine the current state of women worker's health and safety record at Tamil Nadu's garment industry/textile mills in the light of several related laws
  • To discuss and debate on the proposed amendment to Factories Act 1948 with reference to women working during night shifts and its effect on textile mills' women workers

Positioning/Setting of the Case Study

This case study can be used for either of the following modules/topics in the Human Resource Management Course:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Laws in India - To understand the labor/factory laws and acts in India
  • Safety and Security of Employees - To be aware of the prerequisites for companies to have a crime prevention plan and other security programs
  • Workplace Health Hazards and Accidents - To understand the need for hygiene and the cause of accidents at workplace and the remedies



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- Teaching Note (**ONLY for Academicians)


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