Low Pay, No Pay, Deception & Overtime
The garment industry is renowned for failing to pay workers a living wage. Despite working long hours of overtime, garment workers are taking home earnings so low that they are often unable to feed even themselves properly, let alone provide for their families. The reality for most working in the garment industry is malnourishment, substandard housing, lack of clean water, and not enough money to pay for health care and education.
Currently, the failure to pay a living wage means that jobs in the global garment industry do not lift women out of poverty.
For migrant workers, the situation is often even worse. They regularly receive lower pay and work under worse conditions than local workers.
Migrant workers are often employed on a piece rate basis and work excessive overtime during peak order periods.
Conversely, when orders are low they may have no work at all which means they receive no pay. In many cases attempts to cut overtime are resiste
d by migrant workers, who experience this as a drop in their already meagre salaries.
As well as the impact overtime has on their salaries, for many workers who have no freedom of movement and no opportunity to become involved in local or community activities they may prefer to work rather than be confined without pay to dormitories.
A situation which is often exploited by their employers.
For migrant workers their wages are often not their own. Deductions are made by the employer from their already low salaries to cover accomodation, food, electricity and uniforms. Sometimes, as in the case of Malaysia employers using migrant workers have to pay a levy to the government and this is often deducted from migrant workers wages.
Many workers don't know what deductions are being made and they are often not clearly listed on wage slips. Any medical treatment required by workers, even to treat workplace injuries, are often deducted from wages.
Pay discrimination: dividing workers
Migrant workers often do the same job as carried out by local workers but for lower wages and in poorer conditions.
Even within migrant groups wages may differ. This creates a situation where workers are put into competition with each other within the same workplace or even department and is a factor in the tensions between local and migrant workers.
It is also an issue for union organising or worker solidarity: unions may see migrant workers as a threat to the pay and conditions of their members and as a result develop anti-migrant attitudes.
It is on the issue of wages that most cases of industrial action involving migrant workers are taken. This is not surprising. Given the insecurity they face as a result of their legal status and lack of legal protection the risk of taking action at all is so high that many migrant workers tolerate longer hours and worse conditions than local workers.
However even where workers are not suffering debt bondage most have come for a limited period of time in order to save money or support families out of poverty. The failure of the employer to provide even subsistence wages may therefore be an issue that is deemed worth the risk.