COVID Crisis in Factories: Workers uphold economy with no protection from GoSL

21st May, 2021

Main Points raised at Press Conference held today (21st)

COVID Crisis in Factories: Workers uphold economy with no protection from GoSL

Chamila Thushari – Dabindu Collective

  • Situation in the Zone has worsened over the last month yet the COVID crisis in the factories has been there all throughout the pandemic
  • Leaders have not taken the experience of the first two waves to hand 
  • Factories don’t test properly; sometimes workers don’t get to see the proper details of their test results, and they don’t know if the person sitting next to them has tested positive or not. Factories in Koggala, Biyagama, Avissawella, Thulhiriya, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Pugoda have closed because when a handful were tested, there were so many positives.
  • Workers working through lock down as they have been named essential services
  • Anyone who tests positive takes 6 or 7 days to be taken to quarantine, till then they are in their hostels and it is a high risk
  • Sometimes, workers from Katunayake are taken for quarantine to Jaffna, released after 2 days without properly checking their condition, and they have to be admitted to hospitals again when they come back.
  • If there are 12 lines in the factory, only 5 are working now, because all the other lines – 30 people each – have all rested positive; the remaining workers are scared
  • The vaccine needs to be given to all these workers; currently it is given to residents of the areas but these workers who are essential workers now, and most of them are under 30, are yet to receive it 
  • The apparel industry is sustaining the economy – Central Bank reports say that the sector has seen a 183% increase, and this is happening in the background of workers laid off or paid less.
  • Workers must be given paid time off so as not to expose them to risk, and companies must stop cutting their pay when they have been placed under quarantine

Ashila Dandeniya – Standup Movement Lanka

  • What we are seeing now in the industry is slave labour with no concern for the health or protection of these workers
  • On the streets we see Police arrest people for walking around without masks – however, these workers who bring in foreign exchange, no one checks on how they are being treated in factories
  • PCR tests are carried out in a way that is beneficial to the company and doesn’t harm production of the targets.
  • There is no testing of close contacts – after a workers tests positive ideally the people sitting on either side should be told of this, and tested, but this is not done
  • We begin to question the Labour Department that doesn’t help the people it is meant to
  • The BOI officials sometimes feed us lies and mislead us about the severity of the situation
  • We as that workers be able to quarantine in the district – currently they quarantine in their hostels and no one comes to check in on their situation. The Brandix seeduwa facility was turned into a quarantine centre, they boasted many beds were added to it, workers from the Katunayake zone should be taken there.
  • At this time, when the workers remain at risk, we wonder why the industry is still operating 
  • Government must step into help and take responsibility, and all affected or relevant parties must come to the table for a discussion.

Chandra Devanarayana – Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED)

  • It is almost as if the Katunayake Zone has become a distribution centre for COVID
  • Lines keep working on through infections – only the sick person who tests positive is taken away, not those he has been sharing a space with for work
  • No one is taking responsibility for these workers, not even the BOI 
  • Some workers spend all 14 days of quarantine at their hostel, there is no plan that has been put in place to respond to these cases – what happens is that the rest of their boarding mates then isolate them, even after the time period runs out, as they are scared of contracting the virus.
  • We know that production is important as it is work for many but right now how is it successful? There is talk about keeping the economy afloat but to do that, workers need to be healthy and alive. 
  • At a meeting with workers recently a factory management personnel said that they pandemic was ‘no issue’ for them; they told the workers that for as long as they could feel their pulse and their heart working pulse/heart is working, they must come to work; otherwise, they could go home and it wouldn’t matter as management could find replacements, or they could simply stay away from work and not be paid.
  • Reports of women in these private sectors who are pregnant and haven’t been paid for the leave they have taken in that time
  • Vaccines must be given to workers and not just residents of the area; otherwise, the factories should close until all workers have been vaccinated
  • We know that production is important as it is work for many but right now how is it successful? There is talk about keeping the economy afloat but to do that, workers need to be healthy and alive. 
  • We ask all leaders relevant, not to make the Zone a place of suffering

Roshani Niththila – Shramabhmani Kendraya


– Prioritise the urgent vaccination of ALL workers.

– Transport COVID positive workers to quarantine centres as soon as possible so as to minimise risk to themselves and other workers residing in their same hostels/boardings.

– Shut down all factories and provide at least 2 weeks of paid leave to workers, starting immediately, until the crisis situation in the FTZ and other factories, are brought under control.

– Prioritise the quarantine of COVID positive factory workers at the newly constructed, state of the art, quarantine centre in Seeduwa. 

– To the Labour Minister, Commissioner General of Labour, the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAFSL) – stop avoiding meetings with organisations/unions working with workers, and urgently convene a meeting with them to discuss urgent actions required to mitigate this crisis. 

– Provide Rs. 5000 relief rations to all workers in quarantine, and to those without work, including Manpower workers, and instruct local Grama Sevakas to not limit distributions to those on Election lists.

– To international Brands such as, NEXT, H&M, GAP, Adidas, Marks & Spencer, Decathalon and Ralph Lauren, keep the worker’s best interests in mind and DO NOT cancel orders like the last time around, and include clauses such as, the setting up of Health Committees within factories, with special attention given to women’s health and safety, and to recognise the workers’ right to unionise, in the Code of Conduct Brands establish with local factories.

Watch the full Presser here –