In a letter addressed to EU delegation in Sri Lanka, the Stand-Up Movement, a wokers’ rights organisation working in Sri Lanka Free Trade Zones say that “the Government of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment do not seem to be protecting the employees rights in the investment zones. As a result, factory owners are able to continue their abusive practices with impunity, ignoring worker’s rights and focusing on profits at any cost.
“Many factories have appointed former military officers as heads of human resources. It has created a backdrop for unnecessary conflicts in employee issues. As a result, employees in many factories have to work with dissatisfaction. Such a situation has been observed at Brandix, which employs a large number of employees.”
The letter urge the European Union to address the issues outlined in the letter before granting an extension to GSP+ benefits to Sri Lanka. the letter follows:
Mr. DENIS CHAIBI,
Ambassador Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka,
EU must address worker’s rights, unjust and illegal employment policies and practices in Export Processing Zone’s before granting GSP+ privileges to Sri Lanka
There are 15 Export Processing Zone’s operating under the Board of Investment in Sri Lanka and their number of employees is over 350,000. Due to this Sri Lanka earns 14% of its annual export earnings from this sector.
Many local laws, such as the Industrial Disputes Act, the Factories Ordinance, the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka Act and the Termination of Employment of Workmen Act as well as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, obligations under the international conventions such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are ignored by factory owners.
The Government of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment do not seem to be protecting the employees rights in the investment zones. As a result, factory owners are able to continue their abusive practices with impunity, ignoring worker’s rights and focusing on profits at any cost. Many factory owners have become more powerful than the government. A committee was appointed by the government to investigate the allegations against Brandix company that the importation of Indian workers late last year (2020) led to spread of COVID-19, but due to the influence of these factory owners, the report of the has not been released so far.
Although travel restrictions and lockdowns were imposed across the country due to escalating COVID-19 situation, the inclusion of service in the investment promotion zones on the list of essential services forced these employees to come to work. But many were not provided with relief measures and support provided to other sectors engaged in essential services during COVID-19.
Many factory owners have not taken formal steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, forcing employees to work unsafely. As a result, about 50,000 employees became infected with COVID-19. Factory owners have avoided their responsibility by sending infected people to their hostels or boarding rooms, which are usually very crowded and not conducive to self-isolation and physical distancing. Infected persons are not sent by the factory owners to the quarantine centers set up in the zones as they have to pay. Health recommendations and formal health care practices have not yet been established in factories, forcing employees to work with great stress and endangering their lives. Pregnant mothers are not provided needed facilities and they face additional risks.
Also, a large number of employees have been laid off so far. It has even deprived them of the statutory benefits they have been entitled to for a long time working in factories. For a long time, factories in the investment promotion zones employed workers on a casual basis. These employees, who are coordinated by manpower agencies, have lost many of the rights of permanent employees. Because of this they have no job security. These employees do not receive a salary commensurate with the cost of living. They have to work without any leave to reach inaccessible targets.
Many factory owners have rejected the right to form and become members of trade unions, provided by the Trade Union Ordinance of Sri Lanka. Sixteen people of the company ATG in Wathupitiwala have been fired for trying to form unions last month.
Also, these employees have been subjected to various hardships, due to not taking necessary steps for their welfare facilities. They have come from different parts of Sri Lanka and have been compelled to stay in boarding rooms without adequate facilities. As a result, their health has deteriorated.
Many factories have appointed former military officers as heads of human resources. It has created a backdrop for unnecessary conflicts in employee issues. As a result, employees in many factories have to work with dissatisfaction. Such a situation has been observed at Brandix, which employs a large number of employees.
The government and relevant authorities must take quick steps to ensure the rights of employees employed in Export Processing Zone’s and provide the necessary infrastructure to improve their living standards.
Therefore, we, as an organization that is working for the rights of employees in this field, request from you an opportunity to meet (face to face or online) and discuss directly with you the issues they face.
Ashila Dandeniya, Stand-Up Movement
Nikolaos Zaimis, Senior Advisor,
Trade and Sustainable Development,
GSP and EPAs, Directorate, General for Trade, European Commission,
Head of Division South
Asia, European External
Actin service (EEAS)
GSP Trade Preferences,
Trade and Sustainable Development,
Generalized System of Preferences, European Commission,
Head of Unit,
Directorate-General for Employment,
Social Affairs and inclusion- Labour Mobility,