Garment Labourers in Sri Lanka

One of the persons I chatted with at the Christmas party was a woman who is in charge of human resources for a garment manufacturer. She does all the hiring and firing, counsels the employee when needed, and things like that. And she told me a heck of a lot about life as a young woman who works for a garment factory.

First things first. They usually hire women between 18 and 25 who are unmarried, have no children, and are from the out-stations, or villages.

Yes, there are laws against prejudice in the hiring process – ie, looking for only women, or a certain age, or a certain marital status, or that sort of thing. But in reality, it isn’t enforced and jobs are openly advertised in the newspapers for "Men, 25-30, single." Or "Women, 18-25, unmarried." Or whatever your qualifications are. They’re very adamant about specifying male or female for whatever jobs they have vacant. They’d never get away with it in Canada or the US, but here, who’s going to complain?

Hiring unmarried women – because they don’t want to deal with absenteeism due to taking care of children or sick husband.

Hiring women from the outstations – because they’re less educated and look on this as a huge opportunity. Usually because it’s a LOT of money for the girls and their families.

18-25 – because they’re more likely to be unmarried, but they’re also more easily molded.

She also told me that she frequently makes trips to the out-stations on recruiting trips. They don’t wait for the village girls to make it to Colombo, she hunts them down.

Anyway. At this particular factory, she’s got about 2000 women working there. The company provides housing for 1500 girls, but the rest have to find their own housing. The company will help, but the girls are responsible for making it work, paying the bills, the whole nine yards. For those who are lucky enough to get company housing, it’s free to the employees. It’s basically dormatory style housing with huge racks of bunk beds stacked in rooms, so dozens of girls will share one room.

For those who don’t have company housing, they pay Rs. 750 a month. That’s just for the bed. But they’re usually not allowed electricity, nor are they permitted to use the cooking facilities. It’s just a bed and nothing but a bed. So the girl arrives with a huge bag of her stuff, and no where to put it, so it stays in the bag. And she gets a bed – bunk beds, 3 high, not two. Typically, there are 12 or 15 girls who share a room, and the room will be about ten feet or twelve feet square. That’s it.

They have to buy their food off the street. Estimate Rs. 30 per meal for a very basic meal, so for two meals a day, say Rs. 1800 a month. For three meals, Rs. 2700 a month. Perhaps they can swing something cheaper – I don’t know. I only know that I’ve seen rice & curry packets – no meat, just vegetables – for about that much.

And they have to pay transportation – as in buses, usually – to get to work. Probably Rs. 5 or 10 or something like that. Very cheap.

Now to put it into context. They’re earning Rs. 4100 to Rs. 9000 per month. Or about $41 to $90 US.

Minus expenses, the girl making the Rs. 4100 a month will likely have a net profit of Rs. 1300, most of which, if not all of which, get sent home to the family. $13 a lousy month.

Usually, this amount of money back in the villages can make a difference between starving slowly or doing sorta okay.

Author: LMAshton

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