Women in Mumbai At Work Embarks Wage Increase and Work Benefits

By Geeta Seshu, Womens Feature Service

Influx of Indian young women make their way for their local train ride at Nala Sopara station in Thane near Mumbai every morning.They are heading to the prominent factories in the area where they assemble and manufacture electrical goods, garments ,gems and jewelry and machine parts. The camaraderie is quite a sight as they catch up with their friends on their way to work.But reality bites.The job is hard and the pay is low.

The total workforce in India is divided into two- the unorganised and organised sectors – is 39.7 crore.The organised sector comprises 7% of this workforce and the 95% comprises organised sector which is almost entirely made up of women.

While the proportion of women in urban workforce has always been lesser than that of the rural agricultural labour, the plight of women in the ‘organised’ sector is no better. “The sector is organised but the workers are not,” says Sukumar Damle, the Maharashtra state secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).

The women get a salary of around Rs 4,000 (US$1=Rs 46.6) per month.Few of them are worried for they were not getting their Provident Fund dues. They ave been working for several years, there is no record of their service – no appointment letter or other documents.Some of there women were too frightened to approach the Provident Fund Commissioner.

The small units in distant suburbs of Mumbai and townships in the neighbouring Thane district are unorganized and the working unions are discouraged to questions existing wages or work conditions. On an average, the women say that they are paid around Rs 90-95 per day. With overtime, this amount can be raised to about Rs 150 per day. Some of the money is whittled off by the transport costs they incur – around Rs 20-25 depending on the distance they have to travel.Sad to say, they take home only around Rs 4,000-4,500 per month. This amount is at least Rs 75 (per day) less than the stipulated minimum wage for semi-skilled work in the engineering industry.

“I have been working for the last six years and only now my salary is around Rs 4,000-4,500. The amount varies because I sometimes get money for a train ‘pass’ (a seasonal ticket for the suburban train). The company has a bus for us but that takes time so we end up taking an autorickshaw to the station,” says Jaya Pawar, 36, who works in MDR’s department making cables and sockets.

The women get a break of half an hour for lunch and are served tea at their workstation twice a day. The workstation itself is merely a long bench and the women get individual high stools to sit on, with no back-rest.

“They don’t want us to get too comfortable, otherwise we won’t work as fast as we should,” laughs Laxmi, adding that the supervisors discourage any talking at work. Mobile phones are not allowed and the women are fined if the phones ring or they are caught chatting at work.

There have been no instances of sexual harassment in their unit.One major reason is that their owner is strict about any interaction between women and male employees as well as the interaction between the women and the male supervisors. The women adhere to a dress code and are not allowed to wear jeans or big earrings.

“If anyone is seen to be unduly fashionable, or they don’t drape their ‘dupatta’ (long stole) properly, or laugh too loudly or don’t sit properly, they are immediately told to conform or leave,” says Maya Kadam, 32, who is planning to quit when she gets married in a few months, adding that a majority of the employees are not against these restrictions as it makes the work environment more secure.

Recruitment is by word of mouth and an employee gets a commission if she brings a friend in and the latter sticks it out. For the women, a majority of whom are school dropouts.Factory employment is a way out of poverty as well as a better alternative to jobs as domestic workers or beauty parlor attendants. But with the wages remaining constant and the spiralling cost of living, escaping from poverty seems more remote than ever.

But with a meager income one factory girl named Laxmi Kadam considers factory work better than doing houseworks.

“I know I don’t get much money and I have to travel a great distance to get to my place of work, but I still like working in a factory. It feels good to tell someone when they ask what I do. I don’t say ‘ghar kaam’ (house-work). I can proudly say ‘main factory jaati hoon’ (I work in a factory),” says Laxmi Kadam, 27, employed for the last eight years in MDR Electronics, an engineering unit manufacturing cables and electrical switches in Nala Sopara, north-west of Mumbai

(Names of factory workers have been changed to protect identity.)

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.