About 30,000 garment workers took to the streets here against a move by the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to restrict them from withdrawing their entire contribution to the provident fund till the age of 58.
The move aimed at encouraging long-term savings has been put on hold by the Centre after protests turned violent in Bengaluru. The EPFO has deferred the decision on tightening of norms for provident fund withdrawal after facing protest from trade unions.
Rioteers in Bengaluru burned vehicles at a police station and damaged over 50 buses across the city. Police firing left two persons hurt, including a college girl, while several workers were injured in a lathi charge by policemen. Eight policemen were injured in mob attacks.
Traffic crawled in busy areas as protesting workers blocked the national highways to Chennai and Mumbai demanding a rollback.
Bengaluru is home to Page Industries, makers of Jockey brand garments, and the Blackstone-owned Gokaldas Exports. The city produces garments for Marks and Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger and Van Heusen.
Bengaluru employs nearly 500,000 people in the garments industry, nearly 95 per cent of them women. The average wages of garment workers are Rs 6,000- 8,000, according to the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC).
"Half of the garment workers are not covered by provident fund (PF) or Employees’ State Insurance Act. The garment industry has the highest turnover of employees," said Supriya RoyChowdhury, professor at the ISEC who has worked on garment workers’ issues.
“The majority of workers are young women. A substantial number want to take out their PF money for marriage or children's education," she added.
Garment industry workers also had serious health issues, forcing many of them out of work, said Kala Sreedhar, a professor at ISEC.
Business in the city has been affected by the workers’ protest, which began on Monday. Over 10,000 workers have taken to the streets against the government move.
"Industries have lost over Rs 30 crore a day," said Tallam R Dwarakanath, president of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "There should have been better communication to these workers about the benefit of the PF order," he added.
Union Minister for Fertilisers Ananth Kumar, a parliamentarian from south Bengaluru, pleaded with protesters saying their rights would be respected. Karnataka’s Home Minister G Parameshwar asked workers not to indulge in violence.
Trade unions have called for a meeting on April 26 to decide on their course of action. "This was a spontaneous protest by workers. They are worried that their life savings will be lost," said KR Jayaram, president of the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union.