FTZ and Manpower workers have been left to fend for themselves!

Hundreds of FTZ workers have tested positive for COVID19 over the last month. PHIs have told workers who’ve tested positive to self-quarantine at their hostels, as quarantine centres are full, and their hands are tied until the Govt. instructs them accordingly. Workers in self-quarantine have not received any assistance in the form of either cash or relief items, and have to manage on their own or depend on hand-outs from some worker’s whose employers have provided them with some aid. Other workers living at these same hostels, and share the same toilets and common spaces, who haven’t tested positive, continue to go to work daily, putting themselves, other workers and their close associates at grave risk.

For the third time over the course of one year, FTZ and Manpower workers have been left to fend for themselves! We are seeing the 3rd Wave hit this industry at full throttle, and still NO PLAN by the GoSL to respond to this crisis! Employers and the Govt. need to step up and take control of this spiraling catastrophe, at least at this late stage!

When will FTZ & other daily wage/informal sector workers, including plantation workers, who work & live in close proximity to one another, get their vaccines? Or do their lives not matter beyond the billions they contribute to the economy?

13th May, 2021

FTZ and Manpower workers impacted by COVID-19
Situation Update

All factories in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are currently in operation, despite random PCR testing resulting in a sharp increase in the number of workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 recently. 

J.K. Garments Pvt. Ltd., Liyanamulla, Katunayake

During the first week of May, there were 12 workers who tested positive, but, within a week it had increased to 55 workers. 

Ansell Lanka Pvt. Ltd., Biyagama

Although there are no official statistics on the number of workers who have tested positive, unofficial sources have said that it could be as high as 100 workers at the moment.  

Courtaulds Clothing Lanka (CCL) Pvt. Ltd., Katuwellegama, Negombo

In a random PCR testing carried out at the factor, 50 workers were found to be positive for COVID-19. Thereafter, on the 7th of May, the factory was closed and all workers were subject to PCR tests. The test results were released on the 10th of May, increasing the number of workers who have tested positive to 300, whilst 150 workers continue to work as the factory re-opened on the 10th. 

Sirio Ltd., Badalgama

As here too positive cases were identified during a random PCR test, all workers were tested on the 07th of May. 

NEXT Manufacturing (Pvt) Ltd., Katunayake

At first there were seven workers who tested positive, but now the number has grown to over 100 workers. Forty more workers have tested positive this morning (10th May), with more PCR test results due in the evening. Only four out of the twelve factory lines are currently working, as other workers have either tested positive or are close associates of those who’ve tested positive. Workers have been made to self-quarantine in their respective hostels. Workers are very afraid though, as some co-workers have shown symptoms such as red eyes, fever, cough, and with some fainting whilst at work. The situation is particularly dangerous as there’s nobody of authority to take responsibility for the workers, as most of the human resource personnel are working from home. 

In addition, workers from this factory who were tested positive on Monday (May 10), have still to be taken to quarantine centres. PHIs have called them and told them to take precautions and stay inside the boarding. They haven’t told them anything about transporting them to a quarantine centre. One worker who was tested positive on May 10th is currently self-quarantining at her hostel, where nine other workers also reside. However, PHIs haven’t put a notice outside their hostel to indicate that it’s a place of self-quarantine. 

Workers from other factories such as United Tobacco Processing (UTP) (Pvt) Ltd. and Hirdaramani Garments Katunayake (Pvt) Ltd, who are also residing at this hostel, have been told not to come into work. But as there’s no quarantine notice outside their gate, workers fear that their leave will be cut. All nine workers share one toilet, with the worker who’s positive using it first at 5am, followed by the rest, but, as they don’t have access to proper sanitization products, there is a high risk of the virus spreading. 

A large number of workers have tested positive at the Smart Shirts (Lanka) Ltd., ATG Gloves Knitting (Pvt) Ltd, Star Garments (Pvt) Ltd., NEXT, Crystal Martin Garments, Screenline Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., Sky Sport Lanka Pvt. Ltd., Ezzy Sails Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., Elsteel and Brandix factories. 

Workers from some factories fear that if they don’t go to work, those days will be cut from their leave. Many who test positive are also not taken to quarantine centres, and they have not been informed of a vaccine plan. When workers are self-quarantining at hostels, notices are not posted outside that it’s a quarantine area, and so workers go and to and from the hostel and normal, putting themselves and others at risk. This is a very dangerous situation. Workers are also reluctant to stay home, because their wages are cut if they do. So they go to work somehow because they cannot afford to stay home. Particularly if the worker who’s in self quarantine is not from their own factory, workers continue to go to work as usual. When workers test positive and are either made to self-quarantine or sent to centres, not adequate testing is done of their close associates/co-workers.

The MAS Active Linea Intimo too is badly affected, with 300 workers having tested positive for COVID-19. But the rest of the workers continue to work.

Some factories such as Screenline Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. don’t follow some of the basic health and safety guidelines, so workers are fearful for their safety. Whilst all workers are masked and must wash their hands, 15-20 workers must work in very close proximity to one another, as they are working at one machine. The machine is only sanitised once every 2-3 days.  

Many workers from the MAS Active Linea Intimo, Silueta (Pvt) Ltd., and Ansell Lanka Pvt. Ltd., factories having tested positive for COVID-19, and are asked to self-quarantine at their respective hostels, where workers from other factories also reside. As other workers living at these hostels travel to and from their hostels to work, people in living in and around these hostels feel at risk and that COVID will spread quite rampantly in these areas, if safety measures are not taken. 

Bodyline (Pvt) Ltd., Horana

Approximately 110 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at this factory, and the factory has not provided these workers with any sort of relief in either cash or dry rations etc., whilst they are in self-quarantine at their respective hostels.

Taian Lanka Steel Company (PVT) Ltd., and the Laojee factories in Horana have also reported a large number of positive cases. The Laojee factory has closed down for the moment but, the rest are continuing with work as usual. 

Lalan Rubber (Private) Ltd., Thihariya and Horagasmankada

Similar to the last wave, this time around too, workers have tested positive, yet no PCR testing of all workers has been done as the factory owners are afraid of the news getting out. 

Aqua Garment, Negombo

They have found 127 workers who have tested positive, but the rest of the workers continue to work at the factory.


Manpower Workers

As some factories insist on workers taking a PCR test prior to coming to work, and many workers are unable to do so because they cannot afford to and Manpower agencies too have refused to sponsor these tests, so they stay at their hostels and don’t go to work. Although some factories employ manpower workers, they don’t get long-term work at one factory. Further, as many factories don’t hire manpower workers now, many of them are unemployed and facing dire economic hardship.


Quarantine Process 

Currently, workers who are tested positive are subject to mandatory quarantine at their respective hostels. As workers who work at different factories live in shared accommodation, with manpower and daily wage workers, daily wage workers are finding it particularly difficult to make ends meet. Further, as the Government has not implemented welfare provisions for such workers this time around, making them particularly vulnerable. Further, as some hostels that workers are made to carry out mandatory quarantine at, include children and pregnant mothers, and as no person in authority is taking responsibility for these workers, they are being made to face many challenges. 

Further, there have been breaches in workers practicing healthy and safety guidelines, over the course of the pandemic. This too is a significant issue. 

Around 65 workers have been tested positive at boardings in Amandoluwa and Awariwatte in Katunayake. Many have not been taken to quarantine centres as yet, as area PHIs have told them that there is no arrangements being made to take them to a quarantine centre as yet, as all centres are at capacity, but, that as soon as space becomes available, they will take them to centres. Therefore, workers who’ve tested positive are forced to self-quarantine at their hostels, where they share accommodation with other workers, who continue to go to work. This has resulted in a precarious situation within hostels, and as no authority is taking responsibility for the plight of these workers, it has put their lives at great risk. In some instances, even 5 days after a worker has tested positive, they have not been taken to a centre, and there has been no disinfection of the shared hostel, even days after a worker has been tested positive. PHIs have told workers that there is no clear plan and that their hands are tied until they’re given proper instructions from the top. 

In a hostel in Katunayake, one worker was tested positive and only taken to a centre 3 days after he was tested positive. They have been told that he will be returned to the hostel in 7 days time. However, he being brought back early, without even completing 10 days in quarantine, could cause great risk to his pregnant wife and other workers at the hostel. 

Other workers who were also quarantined there, with 44 workers sharing 21 rooms from different factories, were not provided with any relief items (except for two employers), for upto 5 days. Manpower workers in particular, are badly affected, with many going without anything to eat, as they have nobody to take responsibility for their wellbeing. 

At a boarding in Awariwatte, Katunayake, 2 out of 75 workers residing there, have tested positive on Monday (May 10th), but, 3 days later, they have yet to be taken to a hospital/quarantine centre. There is a toilet and washroom constructed by the employers of the two workers who are positive, to be used by workers who work at their factory. But, as these two workers have to carry out all their other activities on their own, there is a question as to whether it actually minimises the risk. Also, as there are workers from multiple different factories, and manpower workers residing at this boarding, who are still continuing to attend work, this situation is precarious and poses serious risk of the rapid spread of the virus. Boarding owner given goods but not amounting to Rs. 10,000, even though some GS’s handover along with bill to others. Boarding owner is given, but others at the boarding not given cos not on voter list. 

*A worker who is one of triplets, works at a factory, whilst one of her siblings lives with her mother who has Cancer, and her third sibling is also boarded at her hostel. When her sister who lives with her mother, tested positive for COVID-19 recently, her hostel owner asked her and her family to leave the hostel, as they would have come into contact with her sister who tested positive. Therefore, now, her husband, child, sister and her, have no choice but to go and live with her mother and COVID positive sister, putting themselves also at risk. The PHIs had been able to come and take her to a quarantine centre on May 9th midnight, (5 days after she tested positive.) When she was first taken on the 9th, she had no idea where she was being taken. On the following day they had not got dinner, but, her work place had provided them with some biscuits, so she had eaten that. There doesn’t seem to any plan specific plan it seems, and her sister had been feeling quite weak had been experiencing chest pains. She had been given Vitamin C.*

In light of all the above information, it is very clear that the Government needs to put in place an urgent plan to manage and control the further spread of COVID-19 within the FTZ areas.

From: Marisa De Silva <desilva.marisa@gmail.com>