SRI LANKA Workers’ rights in special zones suffer from COVID-19

The textile and clothing sector has so far resisted the pandemic and supported Sri Lankan economy through exports. But now unions are complaining that workers in free zones have paid the price and are asking the government to provide more security.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The third wave of COVID-19 is wreaking havoc among textile and garment workers in Sri Lanka.

So far, this sector has supported the country’s economy through 14 free zones which have attracted foreign investment and contributed to exports and international trade.

Today, six civil society organizations complain that this situation is accompanied by major problems.

In a virtual meeting held two days ago, the unions presented to the media the health risks faced by employees and highlighted the deterioration of workers’ rights in a sector that mainly employs women from rural areas of the country. country.

“Workers at these factories face serious health risks and have struggled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka,” said Chamila Thushari, coordinator of the Dabindu collective union in Katunayake.

“It goes without saying that these are delicate and highly specialized fields where the vast majority of women workers are employed,” explained Thushari.

“We regret to have to stress that during this period they were targeted as ‘carriers’ of the disease in the eyes of the outside world,” she added.

In a written appeal to Minister of Labor Nimal Siripala De Silva, the six organizations highlighted the deterioration of working conditions.

“When the pandemic broke the anti-COVID rules were followed, but things changed in the third wave. The premises are not disinfected and no surgical mask or disinfectant is provided, ”said Chandra Devanarayana, Executive Director of Revolutionary Existence for Human Development.

Workers are also discouraged from getting tested because if they are positive, staff capacity would be reduced and this would negatively impact production targets.

“When the factories were closed in the first wave, no wages were paid to the workers who remained at home,” noted Lalitha Ranjani, chief organizer of the Textile and Clothing Workers Union.

“The government had established a minimum wage for the period when factories were closed which was never paid,” Ranjani added.

The six organizations are not calling for a new lockdown, given that Sri Lankan economy is currently only supported by exports, but they have sent the government a series of recommendations to improve conditions for workers, including more workers. tests, social distancing measures required and the provision of adequate quarantine facilities.

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