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Harsh times for garment workers in Eastern Europe

Garment workers in Eastern Europe are coping with difficult conditions. Romania is one of Europe’s biggest garment producers and the sector is among its top exports. European fashion brands have long found a foothold in the Eastern European country, with at least 4,00,000 people employed in the industry. But a large number of Romanian garment workers are living on the poverty line, earning below the minimum wage as they are regularly abused by the factory owners. Overtime, up to 15 hours a week - often goes unpaid in Romania. Factories are poorly ventilated. Managers deny basic human rights and barely allow toilet breaks. Changes to the country’s tax code have also added to the workers’ challenges. In January 2018, the burden of social contributions payable by the employer was shifted to the employee. The new provisions, while decreasing income tax from 16 per cent to ten per cent, now provide 35 per cent in mandatory social contributions to be paid by the worker. The new fiscal move hits people who are at a higher risk of poverty. Romania’s poverty rate is already ten per cent higher than the EU’s average.

Bulgaria’s garment and textile sector accounts for around 10 per cent of the country's total exports. But unpaid salaries over the years have seen protests erupt. When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, there were 1,65,000 textile workers. Today only 90,000 remain.