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Print edition : Oct 19, 2007 T+T-
K. Selvaraju, secretary-general, Southern India Mills Association.-K. ANANTHAN

K. Selvaraju, secretary-general, Southern India Mills Association.-K. ANANTHAN

Interview with K. Selvaraju, secretary-general, SIMA.

K. Selvaraju, secretary-general,

IN an essay titled Women Employment: An ideal system for textile industry, K. Selvaraju, secretary-general of the Southern India Mills Association (SIMA), defends the apprenticeship scheme which is currently under attack from trade unions and is also under government scrutiny. The essay was published in SIMA Review, the associations in-house magazine.

In the essay, Selvaraju lists out the disadvantages of having permanent workers in the textile industry. According to him, permanent workers resist change in working methods, enrol in trade unions and take shelter under the rigid labour laws and cause a fall in productivity by idling at work or often absenting themselves.

He also finds that permanent workers do not maintain a good work culture and lack commitment and dedication.

The essay points out that it is important for organised textile mills to try different, innovative methods of employing workers to compete in the liberalised/globalised environment. One such system, which became popular, is that of employing young women and housing them in dormitories as apprentices until they got married. Young women have finger dexterity and better discipline and there is no work stoppage, he points out. Managing labour is not an issue with women workers, he says.

In an interview to Frontline, he spoke about the various issues relating to the employment of young women by textile mills. Excerpts:

On the success of the apprenticeship scheme:

The system [of employing apprentices] has been very successful. The percentage of apprentices varies from mill to mill, depending on the rationalisation that companies go for. These are based on guidelines laid down by individual mill managements. They [mills] may replenish their entire manpower with apprentices if they want.

On marriage assistance:

I think the practice of employing young women as apprentices started in spinning mills in Dindigul. The mill owners used to gift gold to efficient apprentices, which became useful for their marriage. This trend seems to have become popular from then on and several mills began to provide marriage assistance to girls at the end of their apprenticeship. Mills generally find it difficult to retain the female workforce. The girls yearn to work harder so they can save money to get married. So we give them a goodwill amount when they leave.

On the use of the name sumangali scheme:

The name sumangali scheme or other names should not be used. It gives a wrong signal. And it is not there in the standing order.

On the condition of women in mills:

Their [mill girls] total life changes when they come to work in the mills. Girls enjoy life in the mill as in a college hostel. When girls are brought from distant places, the management has to provide them hostel facility. The girls pursue higher studies while working in the mills. They can watch TV during spare time. Many mills have five-star facilities. Many mills have yoga classes and a library. Mills are also taking up measures to redress their grievances and address issues of sexual harassment, if any. Normally they are not given identity cards. It is not needed because they live inside.

You know how much effort the mills are putting in helping the girls overcome home-sickness. I would say that parents feel safe about sending their daughters to work in the mills for three years. Also, parents find it difficult to keep their daughters idle at home.

This [apprenticeship scheme] has really helped our society. Mill managements are spending on food and hostel facility. Yes, they deduct a nominal amount from the girls stipend for it. We are also recommending to the mills to give light work during menstruation, but that may not be possible practically. Maybe at subsidised rates, or for free, they also provide napkins. And these rural girls are weak, underweight, when they come for work. We have studies to show that the girls attain increased haemoglobin levels. They become healthy mothers when they go back and get married.

On labour rights violations:

If my member-mills break any law, take action. But on our part we have issued a list of dos and donts to our member-mills and asked them not to use unethical means. We are even asking mills to pay the girls proportionately if they leave before the scheme period ends. But today the mills spend close to Rs.1,000-2,000 for sourcing girls [through agents]. For the first one year, whatever the mills spend on food and stipend they do not get the desired output from them. It is only from the second year onwards that they get the output. So if they leave in between it is a problem.

Also, many mills spell out clearly in their contract that the lump-sum amount will not be given if they leave before three years. It is conveyed to parents at the time of joining. So you cannot blame the management in such a case. One thing you must understand is that the lump-sum amount is an ex-gratia. You should not consider it mandatory or statutory. But it is an attraction, yes.

Today workers have realised that trade unions are of no help. No girl wants to join trade unions. Also, workers are not happy working according to labour laws. We are getting opposition from the girls when we ask the mills to implement eight-hour shifts. Because the girls dont want to sit idle, they want to earn more money and work more.

On the monitoring committee:

The monitoring committee is good, though some interference is there. But we welcome it. We are with the government.