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Sri Lankan union protects workers amid Covid-19

31 March, 2020The Sri Lankan government took action as IndustriALL affiliate FTZ&GSEU’s called to transport workers stranded in boarding houses in free trade zones back to their homes. Now the union is urging the government to ensure due wages are paid. 

On 18 March, the Sri Lankan government declared a curfew across the country. All factories and offices have been closed, except those providing essential services.

Despite the government’s directions to close factories before 18 March, most factories in the free trade zones remained opened until the curfew. As a result, most workers could not return to their villages and were stranded at their boarding houses near the free trade zones. Workers waiting for their monthly salary did not have money for basic needs.

In a letter to the Minister of Labour, IndustriALL affiliate Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees Union (FTZ& GSEU) requested immediate intervention to:

  • Advice to the Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka to supply food rations to boarding houses, as it is in charge of the free trade zones
  • Advice companies to pay the workers’ salaries immediately
  • Advice the BOI to direct contract agencies to pay employees in advance

Simultaneously FTZ& GSEU and the Women Center launched a program to provide food to the free trade zones. Union representatives visited boarding houses, which also accommodate daily wage workers employed through contract agencies, to distribute food parcels. 

During this process the union found that the boarding houses are not suitable for social distancing and fall short on many counts required for Covid-19 containment measures. Subsequently the FTZ & GSEU demanded the government to make immediate arrangements to transport workers to their homes.

The government took steps to transport stranded workers back home to different parts of the country on 18 and 27 March. The transported workers are under observation for Covid-19 and urged to follow social distancing.

A Ministerial level task force has advised that the wages should be paid before the factory is closed. The task force has also decided that non-attendance of worker due to curfew cannot be considered as leave and cannot be reduced from employee’s personal leave and wages for the month of March will be paid in full. As many transported workers have not received wages, now the FTZ&GSEU once again called on the government to ensure due wages are paid.

Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said:

“We commend the actions of our affiliate FTZGSEU in Sri Lanka, demanding that the government makes arrangements so that workers do not suffer the consequences of the present crisis. It is also heartening that they have taken the initiative to distribute food packets to stranded workers.”