Indian garment factory workers who were fired last year by an H&M supplier due to coronavirus pandemic are set to be rehired after an eight-month struggle and international solidarity campaign, in a rare win for labour unions.
Garment manufacturer Gokaldas Exports Limited has agreed to reinstate all the 1,257 workers – mostly women – who were laid off when it closed a factory near Mysuru in Karnataka state in June, said two Indian unions and global federation IndustriALL.
Gokaldas said in June that H&M order cancellations led to the factory’s closure yet the brand denied this and stated that it had paid for all products as agreed, according to the union, which criticised the Indian manufacturer for “union-busting”.
In several garment-producing countries – from India to Cambodia and Myanmar – activists say factory bosses have used the economic fallout from the pandemic as an excuse to target and fire union members while keeping on non-unionised workers.
The Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU) said that it has signed an agreement with Gokaldas this month to recognizes the workers union and allow it to negotiate in any factory where at least 20% of the workers were members.
Jayaram K Ramaiah, legal advisor for Bangalore-based GATWU, said the agreement could set an example for other manufacturers.
“This is not just any win for workers, it is historic,” he said, praising the workers for protesting for several weeks.
“We want to take this beyond the present victory … to create a model factory and a harassment-free environment for all workers,” Ramaiah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “This is just the beginning.”
Under the agreement, the laid-off workers will be rehired in other Gokaldas factories by August, according to the unions.
India’s multi-million-dollar garment industry, which employs at least 12 million people, has faced scrutiny for labour rights abuses and advocates fear the COVID-19 pandemic could put more pressure on suppliers and lead to greater worker exploitation.
The Gokaldas factory in question was the only one among more than 20 facilities which was unionised, IndustriALL said.
In response to questions about the Gokaldas factory, a spokeswoman for H&M said the retailer would continue to strengthen freedom of association in its supply chain.
“We recognise there is a continuous need to address these issues,” she said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)