Social Security Is Our Right! How HNSA’s Member Organisation In India’s T-Shirt Capital Has Linked Over 3000 Homeworkers To Worker Entitlements

Social Security Is Our Right! How HNSA’s Member Organisation In India’s T-Shirt Capital Has Linked Over 3000 Homeworkers To Worker Entitlements

23 Feb 2022

Deepa, a home-based worker lives with her family in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, India. She has been working as a home-based, garment trimmer for the past eight years and her husband works as a master cutter at a local factory. Deepa says that it takes both of their incomes to sustain their family’s needs and to pay for their daughter’s education. 

In the past, faced by unforeseen circumstances – like ill health or accidents – Deepa and her husband have been forced to borrow money. These sudden expenses have ensured that the family is burdened by a constant financial strain and often struggles to fulfil its needs. Though they have been working for years and have been wanting to save money for future needs – like their daughter’s wedding or their old age – Deepa and her husband have been unable to make any significant savings. 

Oft-called the ‘T-shirt Capital of the World’, Tirupur is a knitwear hub, producing apparel for hundreds of global and domestic brands.  It is also home to thousands of home-based workers like Deepa, who struggle to earn a decent living.

Due to the paucity of regular work that brings in a fair income, Deepa and thousands like her are compelled to take loans even though they have little capacity to pay off them off. Being in debt is a common phenomenon for many homeworkers – a category of home-based workers who produce goods or services for a piece-rate – in Tirupur’s garment supply chains.

Along with low wages, homeworkers – in Tirupur, like many parts of South Asia – are not recognised as workers and therefore do not receive labour entitlements. This means that there is an acute lack of access to social security benefits - such as provident fund, health insurance under the Employees State Insurance. This is coupled with limited awareness, on the part of the workers, on various social schemes provided by governments. This leaves home-based workers, like Deepa, vulnerable to debt traps.

HomeNet South Asia’s study on ‘Homeworkers in the Garment Supply chains (2021)’ showed that homeworkers in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, earned an average of INR 2183 per month (approximately USD 30). This average income is 77% lesser than the minimum wage stipulated for the tailoring sector (home-based work is not specified as a category) by the Tamil Nadu State Government.

However, steps have been made in the right direction. To address the needs of an ever-increasing number of vulnerable unorganised sector workers, the Tamil Nadu Unorganised Workers Welfare Board has outlined several social security schemes for workers- irrespective of the type of work they do. The Board aims to combat the deep-rooted impact of living in poverty for a prolonged period, and build resilience among the workers to survive socio-economic crises and shocks.

The announced schemes include compensation for accidental death or disability, pension benefits when the worker completes 60 years of age, funeral expenses, disability pensions, education scholarships, marriage assistance for the children of workers, maternity benefits for women workers for two pregnancies, and assistance for miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy. The monetary assistance allocated under these schemes are directly deposited into the bank accounts of workers.

However, these social security offerings have largely missed Tirupur’s homeworkers - who work inside their homes, isolated from the rest of the world. Government outreach has been poor and the workers themselves lack awareness about the different provisions which exist and the process/documentation required for registration.

To ensure that workers have access to these critical schemes, HNSA’s member, Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE)- a non-governmental organisation working for workers’ rights in Tirupur - has been relentlessly working towards empowering homeworkers, by educating them and facilitating their access to social protection schemes.

Since 2019, SAVE, through HNSA’s ‘Hidden Homeworkers’ project, that is co-funded by European Union, has dedicatedly focused their attention on creating awareness among homeworkers, about issues relevant to them like - occupational safety and health, global and domestic garment supply chains, rights of home-based workers and imparting leadership skills. The most prominent focus has been on assisting home-based workers to avail social security benefits that are being extended by the Tamil Nadu Welfare Board.

SAVE’s relentless efforts have ensured Deepa and close to 3000 other women homeworkers access to the State’s social security offerings. Additionally, the capacity of over 3400 has been built on the issue, leading to greater awareness on worker entitlements. For vulnerable homeworkers, like Deepa, social security is a non-negotiable right that secures their today and their tomorrow.