Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Textile Workers Paid in Kind

Textile industry workers in Turkmenabat, the main town in the eastern Lebap region, have been receiving their wages in kind rather than cash for the last three months. At the end of each month they are issued with a selection of goods made by their factor
Turkmenabat is home to many plants processing cotton, silk and wool into textiles and clothing.

According to Galina, a 40-year-old employee at one factory, workers go to the market and sell whatever they have been given. Galina sells cotton bedding at knockdown prices just to turn them into cash. Her sheets go for 35-40,000 manats (1.50 to 1.80 US dollars at the commercial exchange rate), and pillowcases for 15,000 manats. Once they have earned a small amount of money, she buys food for her family.

At the market, it is easy to spot who works where by the type of things they are selling. Those from weaving plants will have bedding and pyjamas while those from factories making cotton wool and wadding will have quilts, pillows and the traditional “kurpachi” mattresses.

These unwilling traders say they either work at the market in the morning, before the late shift, or in the afternoon when the morning shift ends. The last time they saw actual cash salaries was in February, and they are desperate to earn enough to live on and feed their children. The workers make poor merchants and can be heard offering ever lower prices to their customers.

Turnover is slow, with clothing the best sellers. Children’s clothes – tracksuits, dresses, shorts and teeshirts – are in most demand, especially among people visiting the market from the countryside. At 20-100,000 manats, the children’s clothes are much cheaper than similar items imported from Turkey or China.

The problem of wage arrears lasting many months has not been rectified by the dismissal of textile industry minister Dortguly Aidogdyev in May. Although he was officially charged with abuse of power, it seems likely that he was sacked because of protests by cotton-processing workers who had not been paid.

A subsequent investigation by prosecutors revealed that factories under the ministry’s jurisdiction were providing false accounts. Prosecution service staff reported that managers submitted dual accounts, in which the official version showed – wrongly - that everything was fine and staff were being paid on time.

The textile workers are lucky in the sense that they can sell the goods they make. Other people hit by wage arrears include staff at the Turkmenabat’s fertiliser and chemicals plant, who missed out on wages from January to May; shipyard workers who repair river barges and other vessels; and workers at a plant making excavators.