12/22/2020, 15.28
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Katunayake and Biyagama: no food, no money, no work because of the lockdown

by Melani Manel Perera

The shutdown of nine factories in two free trade zones has resulted in more than 3,400 people, mostly young migrant women, losing their job. RED and other humanitarian organisations are providing food and assistance, including legal aid, to the unemployed.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Due to the health emergency, nine factories have closed down and more than 3,400 people employed at the Katunayake and Biyagama Free Trade Zones (FTZ) have lost their job.

For the Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED) advocacy group, the government and investors have done nothing to protect the newly jobless workers.

“At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, after the sudden announcement of the lockdown, migrant workers in the FTZs – mostly young women – became destitute,” said RED founder Chandra Devanarayana, speaking to AsiaNews. The workers have been “confined to their boarding homes with no food or money, and cannot return to their villages,” she added.

According to a report RED released last week, seven plants have ceased operations in Katunayake (three outside the FTZ) and two in Biyagama. Overall, 3,663 workers have been infected so far with 3,559 recovering; however, 1,236 have lost their job.

One of them is Niranjali Sudhammika, 44, who has not eaten for days and does not have enough money to pay for the boarding house where she is staying.

At the start of the lockdown, 65 FTZ workers were left with 5,000 rupees (US$ 26), 202 with 1,000-2,000 rupees (US$ 5-10), and 13 with nothing.

According to Devanarayana, these workers are getting food and help only from humanitarian organisations. RED has had to provide legal aid to the unemployed or workers who have not been paid.

The activist notes that some companies have used the COVID-19 crisis to target union leaders. RED wants to put the spotlight on what is happening in order to push the authorities to intervene.

In light of the situation, RED and Shramabhimani, another community organisation, believe that a nation-wide movement is needed to defend the rights of FTZ workers, whose contribute Sri Lanka’s largest share of foreign exchange.

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