Garment workers were not monitored – Anton Marcus

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 7 2020

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

Following the sudden surge in COVID-19 after a garment worker was detected to be positive, Joint Secretary Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union (FTZGSEU) Anton Marcus alleged, many apparel factories have not strictly followed health measures and garment workers’ boarding houses were not monitored.

The FTZ UNION and the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka and other stakeholders will be meeting with the COVID-19 Task Force and the Minister of Labour, Nimal Siripala de Silva today (7) to discuss the welfare of the garment workers caught in the pandemic situation.

Marcus also alleged most of the garment factories with the COVID-19, had begun to concentrate more on the productivity of garments rather than the welfare of workers. He said despite 50% having lost their jobs, due to the pandemic, the apparel industry’s revenue has not dropped when compared to 2019.

He said, in March 2020, they had urged the government’s Task Force, at a meeting, to be more cautious about the garment workers and to monitor their welfare. 

He stated, on inquiring from several garment factory workers they told him that initially the factory management made sure that the workers wore masks, washed their hands and conducted proper screening but lately they have not been strict with those practices. “The apparel industry should take social responsibility seriously.”

“March of this year, we told the Board of Investment (BoI) to do a survey as to how many boarding houses are there in the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and in the outer areas that are run for garment workers and to monitor those places, but it has not been done. According to our statistics, out of nearly 40, 000 workers 30, 000 are residing in those boarding places at the FTZ,” he said.  

Marcus also warned that the pandemic will not only make  the apparel industry to collapse but hit the economy badly if the matter is not treated seriously at a time when the industry is doing well compared to other countries. 

“Our Union checked with many factories but alleged they are getting work out of the workers but concentrating less on their day to day welfare.”

“Some factories that were offering breakfast have stopped serving them.” He also added nearly 50% of their salaries were slashed and attendance bonuses are also not being paid due to the prevailing situation. He also said 50% of the workers were forced out of their jobs when the companies stopped providing them with transport. 

He also claimed that the Urban Council in Seeduwa-Katunayake never checked on the facilities of garment workers and never made sure those boarding house owners complied with rules and regulations. There is no proper ventilation and sanitary facilities in some boarding houses.  

He also pointed out that during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Government they had suggested to garment factory owners, the building of hostels and wanted to allocate land for that at the FTZ but that they were not willing to do it. 

“Today 21%, of the export sector, that is out of 900,000 workers, 180,000 have lost their jobs.” He added that the major exporters are in the garment sector. 

Currently around 350 garment factories are in operation. Marcus also doubted, since it’s considered a community spread COVID-19, it’s difficult to find where it originated, as to who contracted it first. It’s virtually impossible to chase after one person,” he added.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 7 2020

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