Pro-labour groups urge Govt. to vaccinate FTZ workers

Monday, 17 May 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • In a joint statement, list several other recommendations for consideration of Govt., private sector as well as foreign buyers of locally-made products

Four pro-labour groups have made an urgent joint appeal to the Government to immediately vaccinate all workers in the Free Trade Zones (FTZ) apart from listing a host of other recommendations for consideration, including by the private sector and foreign buyers of ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ products. 

The statement was issued by four groups — Dabindu Collective Sri Lanka, Katunayake; Revolutionary Existence for human Development (RED), Katunayake; Sramabimani Kendraya, Seeduwa, and Standup Movement Lanka, Katunayake. Following is the full statement.

Prioritise all workers in the FTZ and apparel supply chain for COVID-19 vaccination, both in the Western Province and the rest of the country. This should include both regular employees as well as employees from the manpower agencies. Set up vaccination centres at health facilities near the zones, and at the gates of the different Free Trade Zones (FTZ). Have a target of vaccinating all workers within a two-week period. 

Put in place a systematic random PCR testing program across all factories, and immediately take measures to trace, isolate and transport workers who test positive and their first contacts to quarantine centres. The workers should be informed of the COVID-19 infection situation at their respective factory on a daily basis. 

Provide quarters within each respective factory or the zone exclusively for FTZ workers (including manpower workers), so that there are no delays in transporting workers from hostels to quarantine centres, citing a lack of space. 

Factory owners need to take much more responsibility to protect their workers. For those workers to whom the factories are unable to provide dedicated living quarters, ensure that practical safety measures are supported in the boarding houses. These places where workers from different factories co-habit must be provided with adequate facilities to maintain COVID-19 safety precautions.

Workers who are forced into quarantine centres or self-isolation due to being exposed to COVID-19 infection at their workplace, on the way to work, or at their boarding house, must be given full pay for quarantine days, and no reduction in attendance bonus and other related incentives. Any quarantine related expenses must be reimbursed by factory owners to the workers. 

If a factory or part of the factory is closed due to high COVID-19 prevalence, the workers must be paid in full for the month, and any manpower workers who have been on the roster for the month must be compensated adequately. Workers who are in quarantine should not be subject to ‘No Pay Leave’. Workers who are considered to be at risk due to their condition, should not be forced to come to work during the period. This may include, for example, pregnant women, workers with diabetes and other non-communicable diseases that may be co-morbidities and increase the risk of serious illness. They should be paid in full during the period.

Rs. 5,000 monthly relief ration packs should be distributed to all workers, starting with unemployed manpower and non-permanent workers. Grama Sevakas must be given clear instructions to not limit assistance to election registration lists, as workers are not included in these lists. 

Ensure that all factories strictly adhere to health and safety guidelines, such as regular checking of the temperature of workers, workspace and machinery layout that maintains recommended distance between workers, regular sanitising of machines, surfaces and raw materials, providing PPE for all workers, washing hands regularly, etc. 

Ensure that PHI, labour officers, and BOI officers regularly monitor the adherence to the systematic PCR testing and safety measures and remuneration plans recommended above. 

Put in place health committees in each factory that has adequate worker representation. 

Immediately put in place a COVID-19 Management Forum in each zone, consisting of manufacturer representatives, worker representatives, a PHI/health authority representative, a Labour Department representative and a BOI representative who conduct daily online meetings to raise, discuss and deal with worker health concerns. 

Convene a weekly multi-stakeholder online forum between Labour Department, BOI officials, Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), worker representatives and women’s organisations working in the Zone, to raise, discuss and deal with worker issues that arise during the period. 

Put in place a special health hotline that workers can call for information and counselling regarding COVID-19 infection and response measures. 

To brands/buyers, the buyers should pay a premium for production during lockdown/restricted periods. The benefit of this premium should directly reach the workers.

The buyers should include COVID-19 safety measures in their buyer’s code, and in their periodic audits.