The garment exporters have found themselves at a dead end due to labor shortage brought about by the surge in second wave of COVID-19 infections. Disrupted by migrant workers leaving garment clusters, the demand for polyester fibre has also fallen, and this is proving problematic for spinning mills. Reports highlight that businesses do have orders for exports, which are unaffected, but distribution is disturbed as the pandemic has hit container and shipping line operations.
Ajit Lakra, president of the Ludhiana Knitters Association, says cartelization of yarn-making mills and monopoly of polyester manufacturers brought the alarming rise in garment input costs. The prices of cotton yarn have increased from Rs 190 per kg (pre-lockdown) to over Rs 300 per kg now. The cost of petrochemical-based synthetic fabrics has also increased.
Moreover, the state imposed lockdowns and curfews in Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have already created a fear of losing jobs among garment workers and as such, workers have started moving back home. The Karnataka Employers’ Association (KEA) and Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) have appealed to the governments to avoid stringent lockdowns, allow at least 50% of operations and consider textiles under essential services to exempt it from lockdown.
Kandasamy Selvaraju, secretary general of Southern India Mills Association, told Just-Style that workers will be safer in the factories rather than at their homes given the density of the residential population in many Indian cities. He pointed out that the second COVID-19 wave is preventing crucial face-to-face meetings. “Everything cannot be done online. In textiles, people have to see the fabric designs.”
Ujwal Lahoti, owner of Mumbai-based Lahoti Overseas, which supplies yarn, fabric and raw cotton to Indian garment exporters and overseas customers in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Latin America and Europe, agrees that the current crisis poses major logistical challenges. “To maintain the labor force, workers often have to remain within the factory to prevent outside infections, so they have to be fed and housed on site. Every worker must be regularly tested for COVID-19. To make arrangements for all this labor in-house is a really big task. Factories are running with an average of 50% efficiency.”
Lahoti said there will be losses, although the clothing and textile industry’s customers are being kept informed. “All those who can take the delayed shipments are accepting them and those who cannot are cancelling. Shipping lines have increased their freight charges and the number of vessels has been reduced. The availability of containers is also getting very poor. That is also a very big challenge for the exporters.”