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6 - 7 July 2023
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“It was due to my different appearance, language and the fact that I am a woman,” said Rita Natra Bahaduri, a 28-year-old Nepali migrant worker in India, recalling the constant teasing and taunting by her young male co-workers that she endured for a year and a half. “Every day, I used to cry and curse myself since as a contract employee I couldn’t risk losing my job.”

Rita works in Accura Industries Ltd, in the fast-growing, industrialized city of Chennai, the capital of India’s second largest state economy, Tamil Nadu. Migrant workers like her, coming mainly from eastern India and Nepal, now account for the majority of the workforce in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) like Accura Industries Ltd.

Hari Kumar, a migrant worker from Bihar state in eastern India, works at Shakti Engineering Works Ltd, (SEW) where he had a similar experience. “Local workers kept complaining to supervisors that my section’s performance was falling because workers like me are not that committed to the company, as I am not from Tamil Nadu,” he recalled. The bad working environment was damaging to both him and his employer. “I was confident that I could give more output to my employer and earn extra money. But I simply couldn’t.”

Improving cooperation

But Rita and Hari saw their working lives change for the better when their employers adopted new techniques to improve workplace cooperation. The changes came through an ILO training programme, Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) . This practical, modular training and in-factory consulting programme is designed to improve productivity and working conditions in SMEs. Module One of SCORE focusses on developing cooperative relations in the workplace as a foundation for sustaining a company’s productivity and competitiveness.

As a first step, an Enterprise Improvement Team (EIT), a cross-functional and cross-hierarchical team, was established by both Rita and Hari’s employers. The EITs confirmed that poor communication, and a lack of trust and respect among the employees was having a negative impact on productivity. The Teams also provided a communication channel that helped employees to solve their problems together.

Greater respect

At Accura Industries Ltd, Rita and some of her female colleagues were given on-the-job training to operate milling machines. They were subsequently promoted to the milling section, sending a strong message on gender equality to the entire workforce.

Accura also altered the women’s working hours so that they started 30 minutes earlier than the men and could change into their factory uniforms without having to share the changing space.

This suggestion came from the women themselves, during one of the ten-minute production line meetings introduced by SCORE to encourage the involvement of workers in daily planning.

Durga at work

“Earlier when men and women had the same working hours, the women found it very difficult to change into their work clothes, since only one changing place is available in the company. SCORE gave us a platform to share our views with the management. We are now being heard,” said Durga Dash, a migrant worker from the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

The bottom line

Studies have shown that better social and environmental conditions enhance company reputations, reduce the costs of doing business and improve competitiveness. SCORE helped the management of Accura Industries Ltd recognize this and the company has also provided a separate women’s toilet and more accessible drinking water. Employee morale and performance has improved, resulting in improvements such as timely cleaning and organizing of workstations, and less lost production time. The women employees can now complete their production targets within a 10-hour working day (inclusive of 2 hours overtime). In three months the company saved 220 sq.ft (20.4 sq m) of space and 50,000 Indian Rupees (US$ 740) by disposing of unwanted materials and obsolete machinery.

Hari Kumar, a migrant worker from eastern India

At Hari’s company, SEW, SCORE has also brought improvements. As well as practical changes, such as a reduction in lost production time, these have included better motivation. During an on-site coaching visit, Venkat Subramani, the ILO-certified SCORE trainer, suggested the SEW employees observe a two-minute silence in memory of those affected by the 2015 Nepal and Eastern India earthquake. For the first time SEW’s local staff saw how their Nepali migrant colleagues felt about the disaster. The management has built on this emotional empathy by supporting team-building activities, such as employee birthday celebrations.

Since 2012 SCORE has helped more than 90 SMEs in India achieve productivity gains of 15-20 per cent through more cooperative employee relations and better working conditions, benefiting 4,500 workers and creating more and better quality jobs.

The SCORE programme operates in nine countries; Bolivia, China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Peru and Vietnam. It is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) , with Canada as the donor for the project’s activities in Peru.


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