01/21/2021, 16.44
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Pandemic effect: 80 Katunayake workers starving

by Melani Manel Perera

They did not receive last month's salary nor three months of social security money. The employer says it has no money to pay them. Some of the workers are forced to dine with three cookies and a glass of milk. The authorities have been accused of doing nothing to deal with the situation.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 80 workers in the Katunayake free trade zone have not been paid the last month’s wages and three months of their Employee Trust Funds money.

For days, they have been going to the Shore to Shore Ltd. factory, which makes labels, to protest against their employer. The company claims that it does not have the money for salaries.

Reduced to starvation, the families involved accuse the owners of lying. "They eat top quality food while we and our children go to sleep on an empty stomach," some of the workers told AsiaNews.

The workers say that they have been in this situation since the outbreak of the health emergency a year ago.  "The business owners are playing with our lives and do not understand our suffering. We just want our rights recognised.”

"I never imagined I would suffer so much," said a 50-year-old employee of the company. Originally from the south, she was abandoned by her husband and has to take care of a daughter and other family members.

"I have to pay 5,000 rupees (US$ 25) every month for room and board. Without a salary I am forced to eat two or three biscuits and a glass of milk for dinner.”

Chandra Devanarayana, founder of the Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED), a women’s advocacy organisation, notes that that local authorities are aware of the company’s malpractices, but have done nothing so far to break the deadlock.

"Workers will continue the protest if they do not get what is due to them,” the activist said.

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