11/19/2020, 14.45
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FTZ workers on strike over lost wages and jobs after COVID-19

by Melani Manel Perera

Young and old workers, men and women, are still on silent strike for the fourth consecutive day, over lost wages and jobs. For the Labour Department commissioner, workers must be paid their full salary without deductions. But it won't happen anytime soon.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – For the fourth day in a row, some 50 workers at a factory that produces labels in the Katunayake free trade zone have held a silent protest inside the plant. Today, when they went to work, half of them found out that their work had been assigned to another factory.

“Free Trade Zone (FTZ) workers have suffered from COVID-19 and are now out of work. They have lost their last monthly salary, lost their jobs and are engaging in a silent protest at the plant demanding lost wages and jobs,” said a human rights activist, citing the plant’s human resource director.

Workers “are demanding their last month’s wages,” the activist told AsiaNews, but "we have no money either to pay salaries or provide food (lunch), and we also cannot provide work here, as we now have no money," the director told the activist.

The company claims that they cannot pay the full salary, only 10,000 rupees (US$ 55).

According to Chandra Devanarayana, a human rights activist and founder of the Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED) organisation, nearly 300 employees worked in the factory for more than 15 years. But now about 50 of them are facing salary and job issues.

"This is a very pathetic situation because young and old workers, men and women, are still on a silent strike for the fourth consecutive day, demanding their wages and jobs,” she told AsiaNews. On top of that, “They have already suffered the consequences of COVID-19.”

The activist stressed that losing a salary or even a job is an injustice for those who have suffered from the coronavirus. As factory officials knew, all employees were self-quarantined for a month, and during that time they ran into difficulties. Then, after recently returning to work they were not paid the October wages.

"The deadline to get their wages was 10 November, but they did not get paid even on the 13th or 14th. When workers demanded their wages on 14 November, they were told that they could only get half of the salary.

"But the workers disagreed with that decision and demanded their full wages. But they didn't get the expected answer. Therefore, on the 15th they started a silent protest standing next to their machines, but without working.”

Chandra Devanarayana explained to AsiaNews that "after two days of silent picket, the workers were informed yesterday that there was no money to pay even half of their salary and lunch.

“Furthermore, the employer apparently told them that they risk losing their jobs. Still the workers will go again tomorrow with the same demands.

“I have tried to contact some officials about this but have failed. We will not give up on our attempt to ensure that these fundamental workers' rights are respected.

“There are also reports that workers are victims of discrimination and reprisals and that they are being dismissed during the pandemic. It's a very sad situation.”

This morning Chandra Devanarayana, as a labour advocate, met with the commissioner of the Department of Labour in Colombo.

The latter said workers must be paid their full salary without any deductions. But this won't happen anytime soon.

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