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  • » 04/04/2009, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Garment industry hit hard as plants close and workers are laid off

    Melani Manel Perera

    Hardest hit are young worker and women, who represent 90 per cent of the workforce. The government has no plan to rescue factories or help laid off workers. More closures and layoffs are expected in the so-called Free Trade Zone after 14 April, New Year in the Sinhalese and Tamil calendar.
    Colombo (AsiaNews) – Garment factories in Katunayake, Ekala and Biyagama, all inside Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Zone (FTZ), are closing down and laying off or preparing to lay thousands of workers. Originally the FTZ was set up in 1978 to open Sri Lanka to free markets and encourage exports. Hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly young and women (90 per cent), were employed in the 14 areas that make up the FTZ.

    Owing to the Multi Fibre Arrangement (also known as the Agreement on Textile and Clothing), local exports boomed, beginning in the 1970s. Over time however, the number of garment factories fell from 800 to 200. The workforce also dropped from 350,000 to 250,000.

    But the worldwide crisis is now having devastating effects on the FTZ with waves of closures and layoffs. In fact since July 2008 some 40,000 workers have lost their job and many factories have already announced that they will close by the end of the year.

    For example, Cinotex, a garment manufacturer that has been in Katunayake for the past 25 years, let 3,000 of its workers go, but asked them to resign voluntarily to avoid having to pay compensation. The same happened last August to Jakalanka which shed 2,000 jobs. West Apparel cut about 1,000 jobs. MS Apparels, with plants in Liyanagemulla and Katunayake, told 1,300 of its people that they were out of a job.

    Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, who heads Sramabimani Kendraya (Centre for Labour Dignity), a labour NGO, told AsiaNews that the situation “clearly reflects the crisis that is gripping the country.”

    And losing a job is bad enough, but when they are employed, workers have to put up with dismal working conditions. Whether young or women, often from faraway rural villages, workers in the FTZ have to live in conditions Father Iddamalgoda calls “appalling,” very often “without drinking water or sanitary facilities.”

    “There is no authority responsible for their welfare and in times of trouble there is no one they can turn to,” the priest said.

    FTZ workers are not unionised, and cannot turn to anyone to defend their rights. Because they are constantly in fear of losing their job, they have also shied away from setting up their own plant-based unions.

    So far Sri Lanka’s government has not come up with any plan to help rescue the ailing sector, nor has it done anything to help laid off workers.

    In fact many observers now expect quite a few workers will find a nasty surprise when they go back to work after New Year celebrations (14 April according to the Sinhalese and Tamil calendar), namely closed plants and no more jobs.

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    See also

    10/04/2014 SRI LANKA
    Tamil and Sinhalese New Year celebrated together at fair and equitable exhibition
    Organised by the Savisthri women's movement in Colombo, the event aims to promote more sustainable trade between producers and buyers. Goods on sale included rice, cereals, shoes and handmade clothes, jewellery, sweet meat, jaggery and honey. This year, both Tamil and Sinhalese communities will celebrate the New Year on 14 April.

    23/04/2009 SRI LANKA
    Dead or alive, Tamil Tiger leader’s fate sealed
    Sri Lanka’s army says it knows where LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is in hiding. Sri Lankans wonder about Tiger leader’s future with most hoping he gets killed. Political analyst Sarath Fernando says rebels must surrender but Tamil must continue the struggle for their rights.

    27/10/2008 SRI LANKA
    Sri Lanka unaware of the fate of the population in war-torn areas
    Much of the country does not know the real conditions in which northerners live. The Christian Solidarity Movement is trying to raise funds and awareness despite politicians’ intimidation. Ordinary people pay closer attention to the movement’s campaigns. Its coordinator, Father Iddamalgoda, complains about the “lack of democracy”.

    24/01/2007 SRI LANKA
    Protest against press censorship
    Eight journalists are killed in 2006; many more, Tamil and Sinhalese alike, are threatened or attacked. Many choose exile.

    09/02/2009 SRI LANKA
    Christians in the south pray for Tamil war victims
    Initiative called ‘Hope for a distressed people’ is taken in Colombo. Apostolic nuncio visits Jaffma and expresses great concern for Tamils in Vanni area. Suicide attack occurs in a safe zone reception centre. Mingling with refugees, woman blows herself up, killing 23 and injuring 64.



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