Covid-19 has had an immense impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and men working in Sri Lanka’s garment sector. The initial lockdown left many trapped in overcrowded boarding houses with no income, no food and little ability to physically distance. While the strict lockdown has lifted Covid-19 remains a very real workplace risk in Sri Lanka and the global economic recession is putting jobs and incomes in jeopardy.
UnionAID has partnered with the well-established Free Trade Zones and General Service Employees Union (FTZ&SGEU) to help respond to the crisis facing Sri Lanka’s garment workers. The FTZ&GSEU has successfully demanded the government provide food and safe transport to workers trapped in boarding houses during the lockdown and negotiated a tripartite agreement with factory owners and the government to protect the jobs of all garment workers.
As part of the tripartite agreement the FTZ&GSEU successfully pushed for factories to retain all of their staff and put in place a rotation system so physical distancing was in place and employees are guaranteed to receive no less than 50-75% of their standard hours and pay. FTZ&GSEU joint-secretary Anton Marcus was on the taskforce that negotiated the agreement and sees it as a vital first step to protecting workers’ livelihoods.
“Given the difficult circumstances we are facing with Covid-19, this tripartite agreement is an instrument to safeguard workers’ interests. Now we are working to create more awareness among workers about this agreement to ensure that large number of companies implement it.”
Through this advocacy the FTZ&GSEU has helped protect the lives and livelihoods of its members and tens of thousands more garment workers in Sri Lanka. But the task of ensuring factories abide by these provisions is huge and the FTZ&GSEU is already tackling cases of redundancy. At the same time the pandemic has impacted the union’s income as workers are on reduced incomes. UnionAID’s support means that for the next 6 months FTZ&GSEU organisers can continue to advocate on behalf of garment workers, making sure they are paid, safe and their jobs are protected.
UnionAID’s support is also enabling the FTZ&GSEU to continue to promote, along with other unions and NGOs, the need for greater social welfare protection for Sri Lankan’s as millions face an uncertain future.
We are proud to be supporting the vital work being down by the courageous men and women at the FTZ&GSEU. By raising the voice of working people they are ensuring that the cost of the pandemic and recovery is shared fairly and does not fall solely on the shoulders of the working men and women who can least afford it.