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Sri Lanka garment workers protest over unpaid wages and benefits.

22 December, 201619 December 2016 members of the IndustriALL’s Sri Lanka affiliate CIWU staged a protest at Tri Star Apparel Exports (Pvt) Ltd.

Since October 2016 almost 200 workers of the factory of whom 140 are members of the union, have been facing a number of problems including delayed salaries, unpaid gratuity to retired workers, company’s failure to contribute to social security fund as required by law, and other. The factory, which no longer executes export orders and produces mostly for local market, remains under the jurisdiction of the Board of Investment, a Sri Lankan authority responsible for export processing zones (EPZs).

The wages for the month of October 2016 were supposed to be paid on 10 November, but as no payment was done till 18 November, workers stopped the work. The stoppage forced management to pay 30 per cent of the due wages. However, office staff remains unpaid for the last three months. In the same time on 23 November management suspended both branch union president and chief organizer based on the charges for organizing a strike.

On 25 November management sent all the workers on leave till 5 December without paying rest of the due salaries. On 5 December, the factory remained closed and the gathered workers were again asked to come back ten days later and collect salaries due from October 2016. But on 15 December, when workers came to the factory, it was still locked. Neither director, nor CEO was present, and factory general manager and HR informed workers that the salaries could not be paid on that day and the factory would not be opened. A government representative, assistant commissioner of labour was then also present at the factory.

Outraged and desperate workers organized a protest in front of the factory demanding:

  • Immediate payment of pending wages
  • Immediate remittance of the outstanding state social security funds, Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) to the central bank, not been transferred since 2006.
  • Reinstatement of suspended trade union office bearers and organizers.

Workers also raised a number of these issues with the state labour department. The CIWU union will appeal to labour tribunal and demand reinstatement of the suspended unionists.