Mill staff roll with the times

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

About 2,200 shy rural women arrive in the mills around Coimbatore in southern India every day and start their shifts by changing out of their saris into trousers and putting on their roller skates.

Many of the big yarn mills in the city, known as the Manchester of southern India because of its resemblance to the British industrial city, are rolling out skates for their staff in a bid to improve productivity and make work more fun. What began as an experiment is becoming standard industry practice.

'I thought the idea was mad at first. I felt silly. But I love it now. I feel as though I'm half-playing and half-working and the day goes fast,' said Annam Sankaralingam, 21, a worker at K.P.R. Mills, one of hundreds of textile factories in Coimbatore.

One woman can work on a 36 to 45 metre-long spinning frame with 1,000 needles by skating around it. Before roller skates, it used to take two workers to attend to each machine as it spun cotton thread into yarn. It would also take a worker time, whenever the yarn broke, to walk around to it to retie it. Mill owners say that productivity has improved.

'Most of our female workers live in our hostel because they come from distant villages. You should see them emerge from their hostel on skates for their shift. It looks like playtime in a school,' said K.P.R. Mills managing director Palanisamy Natraj. The need to train women to skate has turned into a cottage industry for Pavis Paramananthan, who runs the Pavis Skating Training Centre.

'The biggest problem with the workers is they are mainly rural women and very shy. They start off by being embarrassed at skating. They're very stiff. It takes them time to relax and loosen up.'