National Commission on Labour (1967)||
29.36 Handloom/powerloom industry is an important section of household industries and handicrafts, which together, according to the 1961 Census, provided employment to 1.4 millions. Our observation visits have revealed that:
(i) A large proportion of workers in these enterprises are family workers. The cooperative form of organisation which extends to areas of small enterprises is a more recent development;
(ii) The owner operator would be concerned with the speed of operation and workers with the maximisation of earnings and consequently such questions as holidays, weekly rest and annual holidays, tend to assume less importance;
(iii) The handloom/powerloom units operate in urban and semi-urban areas. Working conditions and safety provisions are far from satisfactory. The wage rates are also considerably low; and
(iv) By their very nature such units should have a comparatively easy problem of labour-management. The closer contact with the employer—very often the employer himself works with his employees on the shop floor—helps the employees to understand management problems better as also the employer to comprehend better the workers' difficulties.
29.37 A third of the total number of hand-looms in the country is concentrated in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Within the textile industry, the incidence of mechanisation is about the lowest in the handloom sector; not much is required by way of capital for owning a loom and other incidentals; nor long training for operating a loom cither. Returns are related to this low level of mechanisation so that while the expectations for better life have reached handloom weavers as much as other industrial workers, their earnings have hardly improved because of inadequate mechanical support. Handlooms have in many cases a rural setting. Many work relations which are found in the rural context prevail in the handloom sector also. Entry in the occupation at an early stage in life is but one instance; women, children and old men work looms at their convenience on a part-time basis. Persons engaged in manufacture also fall in distinct groups—those not possessing a loom; others owning one or more and taking up work on piece rates; and still others, middlemen and financiers. All these have a bearing on the earnings of handloom weavers. About working environments, there is little difference between handloom and powerloom units, the conditions of which are described in para 29.43.
29.38 Since Independence, attempts have been made on traditional lines to reach more benefits to handloom workers through co-operatives, for purchase of yarn and other accessories, for sale of cloth, and spinning units, and the like. It was felt that with these improvements in the sources of supply of raw material and marketing facilities, the condition of handloom weavers will look up. All such encouragement has no doubt helped the handloom industry but only in a limited way. And here too, as in the case of many cooperative activities, the institutional facilities have turned out to be selective in the distribution of benefits.
29.39 When in the early fifties the schemes of decentralised production and constraints on large scale production through mills were announced, facilities for setting up powerlooms was also a part of Government policy. In reviewing the changes in conditions of work in the powerloom industry, a distinction has to be made in each case between (a) units which are run by the owners as family concerns, and (b) units which employ labour. The bigger units under (b) have again to be distinguished between (i) those which maintain their size in the belief that the inadequacy of factory inspectorate will in any case help them in not being touched, and (ii) those which evade the law by splitting into smaller units.
29.40 The Powerloom Enquiry Committee has viewed the industry as a "symbol of vast country-wise process of economic transition and techno-social change". By this it suggests the silent transition which is taking place from a less mechanised to a more mechanised process improving thereby the productivity and earning Capacity of the worker. About the nature of
ownership and persons employed in the industry, the Committee has the following to say:
"Ownership of a powerloom was to many the key which opened the door to a somewhat less burdensome and dreary life. Employment on a powerloom, even without ownership, yielded in most cases higher earnings than on handloom. Not only the handloom weaver, but also the low-paid agricultural labourer, the industrial worker, the refugee, the small trader, the educated young man of the middle class, the cured leper and the physically handicapped were all attracted to powerloom as a source of livelihood. In the process, bonds of occupational caste, personal prejudices and social inhibitions were cast aside. Powerloom was thus, in its own limited role, the usher of a new social order waiting on the old."
29.41 The dominant pattern of ownership of looms is about 4 per family, though one finds larger units which are covered by the Factories Act and some which could have normally attracted the provisions of the Factories Act but which have been artificially divided with name-plates of different owners. This phenomenon is common to all small-scale units. The Powerloom Enquiry Committee observed that in the last 15 years, growth of the industry "was rapid and when administration intervened to regulate it, it (the industry) proceeded in an unauthorised manner and because of the deep economic urges behind it, it was found difficult to curb or regulate it".
29.42 Labour in some powerloom centres has been organised; but even with organisation, the benefits it has secured are marginal, mostly of the type which could be expected i.e., improvement in earnings as a result of the switch-over from handlooms to powerlooms. And these too have accrued where the employer has shown fairness in not splitting his unit. Where units have been split—and such cases are the majority—labour, and in some cases the small entrepreneur too, has suffered at the hands of intermediaries.
29.43 The condition inside the loom-shed (in many cases it is a residential place) is far from satisfactory. The sudden growth of the industry had its ill-effects not only on housing for men who ran the looms, but also on the space available for the looms. Owners have tried to make use of the limited accommodation to the fullest extent by installing as many looms as possible and the whole place looks so crowded that there is hardly any space to pass through. Since for a majority of looms, beaming is done outside, a weaver saves space on that account and uses it for another loom. The construction of the huts that house the looms, wherever this is essential, is purely of a temporary character; the surroundings are filthy and insanitary conditions prevail. In many places the walls are dilapidated, the lighting and ventilation inadequate, and the temperature oppressive, exposing the workmen to unhealthy and dangerous consequences. And yet, weavers keep on working without any apparent damage to their health. The deleterious effects in the system will probably show up in course of time, but since there is no health check, this could be only a surmise. Where the looms are installed in a dwelling place, one finds weaving accessories all lying about. Conditions of housing which were none too good before have deteriorated further. Some centres of powerlooms present the picture of industrial slums, with industrial waste littered on the streets. Municipal authorities, with their limited resources and always over-committed to other activities, cannot hope to cope with sanitation problems, though octroi on yarn yields them good revenue.