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Abandoned: Exploring the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Tirupur’s Garment Workers

Written by Megan Cousins



Tirupur’s garment industry directly employs over 600,000 workers.[1] Throughout the last 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, most migrant garment workers in Tirupur have not received support. In the initial stages of the first lockdown, workers were not eligible for state government or factory-based cash relief. Companies receiving ready-made garments have also lacked support for workers, with those offering advance salaries to workers during lockdowns claiming that they would deduct the money from their future earnings. Shockingly, for Tirupur’s garment workers who did not receive their wages during April 2020 alone, the amount that they lost totalled over £810 million.[2]


While the Tamil Nadu Tailoring Workers Welfare Board offered financial relief packages of around £20, workers over 60 years old were ineligible. Garment workers such as these have struggled to continue to provide food for their families on a day-to-day basis throughout the pandemic.[3] Such relief is seen to be more starkly uneven between Tirupur’s factory workers and home workers in the garment industry. For homeworkers, their work is sub-contracted by factories which enable families to meet childcare and household demands while continuing to work. However, homeworkers lack minimum wage and social security protections making them hidden from formal support opportunities. Millions of women and girls in India are among those particularly impacted by this divide, with 18-year-old Indumathi Rangasamy in Tirupur describing how in April 2020 she had not received her wages from many months beforehand. The struggle for survival in her daily life is clear as she goes on to say, “I am unable to feed my child properly…if this continues, we will not be able to live”.[4]


Raja Shanmugam is Tirupur’s Exporters’ Association president, urging that despite the health and safety challenges of operating the factories at full capacity during the pandemic, “there is stiff competition from countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh that have started production despite the pandemic”.[5] However, this August, Tirupur’s garment exporters are concerned about a third wave of Covid-19 infections in the region. Most of the migrant workforce have been unable to gain vaccinations in Tirupur as they struggle to provide a local address, which is required for the district’s voter’s ID card that must be presented prior to being vaccinated.[6] Resultantly, the third wave of infections will disproportionately impact the health of the large migrant workforce in Tirupur’s garment industry, while creating further challenges to the rate of garment production and export to supply global companies in the coming months.

[1] Chellappan, K. ‘Only Centre can help Tiruppur to become global capital of casual wear’. Available at: https://www.dailypioneer.com/2021/india/---only-centre-can-help-tiruppur-to-become-global-capital-of-casual-wear---.html (Accessed 17/08/21). [2] Clean Clothes Campaign. Un(der) paid in the pandemic. Available at: https://media.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/files/documents/CCC-Report-Web-DEF.pdf (Accessed 17/08/21). [3] Neelambaran, A. COVID-19 Lockdown: No Relief for Garment and Tailoring Workers in TN. Available at: https://www.newsclick.in/COVID-19-lockdown-no-relief-garment-tailoring-workers-TN (Accessed 17/08/21). [4] Nagaraj, A. India’s ‘hidden’ home-based garment workers feared losing out on coronavirus aid. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-india-garment/indias-hidden-home-garment-workers-feared-losing-out-on-coronavirus-aid-idINL4N2BU29I?edition-redirect=in (Accessed 17/08/21). [5] Mayilvaganan. Tamil Nadu: For Tirupur’s garment sector, challenges and opportunities. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/for-tirupur-garment-sector-challenges-opportunities/articleshow/75586351.cms (Accessed 17/08/21). [6] Saravanan, M. P. Tiruppur garment exporters in fear of third Covid wave. Available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2021/aug/08/tiruppur-garment-exporters-in-fear-of-third-covid-wave-2341741.html (Accessed 17/08/21).


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