Project location: Tamil Nadu
Funding: £176,449 (2022); £31,849 (2021)
Year / duration: 2022 / 3 Years; 2021 / 1 Year
Partner: READ

TRAID has funded READ’s work in Tamil Nadu, South India to support the most exploited garment workers since 2010. The region is a major manufacturing hub for knitwear with at least 1,600 cotton spinning mills and many factories in operation supplying the big high street brands.

In 2022, TRAID is supporting a three-year programme of work focussed on improving working conditions for at least 25,000 garment workers, particularly migrant workers who travel to find work in the textile sector from other Indian states such as Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal. Far from home, these workers live precariously in very poor conditions in rented hostels and settlements near or inside mills and factories and make up around 30% of Tamil Nadu’s garment industry workforce.

READ’s research has found that very few migrant workers are registered as they should be by law making them easy prey for exploitative practices such as non-payment of wages and abusive treatment.

A major issue for both local and migrant workers is difficulty accessing their Employer’s Provident Fund (PF) payments – India’s mandatory Government pension scheme which workers can draw on before retirement for some payments, such as a housing loan or for their children’s education.

Currently, only around 400 spinning mills and garment factories are even registered for PF in the region, workers have little awareness of their rights around PF with most not knowing their registration numbers leading to frequent employer malpractice such as falsifying records.

This project will tackle these issues head on, working with all the relevant stakeholders, garment workers, the industries and government departments to advocate for better livelihoods for migrant workers including taking legal action when needed against offending mills and factories. Workers will be supported to check their PF account status, to keep records of their work, to know their registration number and to have access to legal help when necessary to claim payments owed

At the industry level, READ will work with employers, workers and trade unions to continue its ongoing strategy of creating ‘model mills’ which follow basic labour laws such as having an Internal Complaints Committee – a forum for workers to get grievances resolved. Between 2022 – 2025, READ aims to establish 15 more model mills where 4,500 workers will have access to PF numbers and have received knowledge and rights training with NGOs and trade unions.

Read and Tirapur People’s training on the laws for the protection of adolescent girls in Tamil Nadu

Other tactics to support workers will be to significantly increase the registration of migrant workers by using an App which launched at the beginning of 2021, and the Help Line Desk for migrant workers to register grievances by phone and get support in resolving them. With TRAID funding in 2021, READ has already registered 7,563 migrant workers via the App – exceeding its original target of 5,000 – and has helped resolved 183 grievances against employers.

Garment working women will be supported to join the Garments and General Workers Trade Union (formerly the Erode District Women’s Federation) building its membership base by strengthening links through village and factory Workers Groups, building organisational capacity to take up legal advocacy for the community supporting around 450 workers during the project. Former garment worker Janaki explains the benefits of joining with others to lobby for worker’s rights.

Extreme poverty also means that many migrant worker’s children end up working to supplement the family income, with few opportunities for education. Rates of child labour, abuse and trafficking are high. As well as rights training, READ will establish 2 interstate migrant children’s clubs providing life skills, education, and opportunities for play, and will make 150 education scholarships available to the children of textile workers to avoid school dropouts, child labour and under-age marriage and be supported into education.

This agile NGO works tirelessly with local communities, garment factories, spinning mills,  trade unions, brands, and state and national government to address serious labour rights abuses (see other READ projects funded by TRAID here), and we are proud to continue building on this work to support thousands more of the most disenfranchised garment workers and their families into better livelihoods, education, and incomes.