LETTERS

The Letter of Request to complete the vaccination process of employees before 31st March 2021


By mail and registered post.
15th February 2021

Your Excellency,
The President of Sri Lanka,
Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa,
Presidential Secretariat,
Colombo 01.

Your Excellency,

Request for urgent awareness program to clear social stigma on all COVID-19 positive persons including apparel sector employees and families.

We wish to draw Your Excellency’s immediate attention to the fast-growing social rejection of citizens who tested positive for COVID-19, their families, and their close contacts including apparel sector employees.

At present, on official reports the pandemic has spread to all the districts, especially to export manufacturing factories in industrial parks, FTZs, and outside them. Our information also says, most affected factories are in the apparel sector. Over the past months close to one year, we have been getting reports and complaints that employees tested positive or quarantined as “first contacts” and their families are been rejected in society. This trend of refusing to accommodate the COVID-19 virus affected people in society and serving them with their needs, became very open and aggressive with the outbreak of the pandemic at the Brandix factory in Minuwangoda from late September 2020 that led to the second wave.

With the pandemic spreading to the Katunayake FTZ and its neighbouring areas, affected employees made public statements to media and had their plight explained in social media posts They claimed boarding house owners wanted them to vacate, shop owners refused to serve and buses did not stop for them to get to work.

This unwanted and unnecessary social taboo and stigma we believe, developed with negative publicity on the COVID-19 outbreak, that pictured affected people as “anti-social” and as a “threat” to society. It developed in how “suspected” COVID-19 contacts were “picked up” by armed security personnel and police, sometimes at the dead of the night. In how punishments were announced through media for non-compliance of prevention methods.

This social stigma and taboos have now gone beyond tolerable limits as recent incidents indicate. We as a trade union keep receiving complaints and information of such incidents since positive cases were reported from two factories in the Ridimaliyadde area in Badulla district. We are told, whole families of employees who have not even been identified as “close contacts” are being rejected by their communities. Shops refuse to serve family members of apparel sector employees. An employee who is still working had been refused refuelling of his scooter at a petrol shed. In the Hasalaka area, school authorities have publicly announced that children of apparel factory workers

will not be accepted in the school. A three-wheeler driver has lost all his hires, as his wife is an employee in the factory that had COVID-19 positive cases.

We firmly believe this trend of rejecting and refusing people for being tested positive or for being quarantined and for having such a person in the family that seems to be catching up as fast as the COVID-19 outbreak, should be immediately curbed with official campaigning by health authorities in creating awareness on COVID-19 virus and its spread. People need to be convinced with facts and proof that the COVID-19 virus is not one that requires discarding people socially.

If such social awareness is not created with urgency, we fear economic activities could be effectively carried out with free social mobility.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

The Letter of Request for urgent awareness program to clear social stigma on all COVID-19 positive persons including apparel sector employees and families


By mail and registered post.
15th February 2021

Your Excellency,
The President of Sri Lanka,
Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa,
Presidential Secretariat,
Colombo 01.

Your Excellency,

Request for urgent awareness program to clear social stigma on all COVID-19 positive persons including apparel sector employees and families.

We wish to draw Your Excellency’s immediate attention to the fast-growing social rejection of citizens who tested positive for COVID-19, their families, and their close contacts including apparel sector employees.

At present, on official reports the pandemic has spread to all the districts, especially to export manufacturing factories in industrial parks, FTZs, and outside them. Our information also says, most affected factories are in the apparel sector. Over the past months close to one year, we have been getting reports and complaints that employees tested positive or quarantined as “first contacts” and their families are been rejected in society. This trend of refusing to accommodate the COVID-19 virus affected people in society and serving them with their needs, became very open and aggressive with the outbreak of the pandemic at the Brandix factory in Minuwangoda from late September 2020 that led to the second wave.

With the pandemic spreading to the Katunayake FTZ and its neighbouring areas, affected employees made public statements to media and had their plight explained in social media posts They claimed boarding house owners wanted them to vacate, shop owners refused to serve and buses did not stop for them to get to work.

This unwanted and unnecessary social taboo and stigma we believe, developed with negative publicity on the COVID-19 outbreak, that pictured affected people as “anti-social” and as a “threat” to society. It developed in how “suspected” COVID-19 contacts were “picked up” by armed security personnel and police, sometimes at the dead of the night. In how punishments were announced through media for non-compliance of prevention methods.

This social stigma and taboos have now gone beyond tolerable limits as recent incidents indicate. We as a trade union keep receiving complaints and information of such incidents since positive cases were reported from two factories in the Ridimaliyadde area in Badulla district. We are told, whole families of employees who have not even been identified as “close contacts” are being rejected by their communities. Shops refuse to serve family members of apparel sector employees. An employee who is still working had been refused refuelling of his scooter at a petrol shed. In the Hasalaka area, school authorities have publicly announced that children of apparel factory workers

will not be accepted in the school. A three-wheeler driver has lost all his hires, as his wife is an employee in the factory that had COVID-19 positive cases.

We firmly believe this trend of rejecting and refusing people for being tested positive or for being quarantined and for having such a person in the family that seems to be catching up as fast as the COVID-19 outbreak, should be immediately curbed with official campaigning by health authorities in creating awareness on COVID-19 virus and its spread. People need to be convinced with facts and proof that the COVID-19 virus is not one that requires discarding people socially.

If such social awareness is not created with urgency, we fear economic activities could be effectively carried out with free social mobility.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

The Letter of Appeal for the interventions of the Ambassadors of the EU countries on the continuing of the repressive measures by the government and failure to taking steps to prevent the COVID virus inside the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka


HE the President,
Gotabaya Rajapaksa,
Presidential Secretariat,
Colombo.

Your Excellency,

Re problematic issues arising from the declaration of curfew for quarantine from 10.00 pm August 20th to 04.00 am August 30th.

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus across the country over the past one month or more is felt in day-to-day life beyond that of numbers and statistics. Increasing numbers in the positive caseload and fatalities keep burdening frontline health workers almost beyond tolerable limits. Thus, there are complaints and even threats that health workers may not be able to continue with their work.

It is in such context health experts, numerous civil society activists and even leading clergy appealed to you and the government to impose a total lockdown during the past week. In response to such appeals, “curfew for quarantine” was declared officially for a countrywide lockdown from 10.00 pm August 20th to 04.00 am August 30th.

Conditions applicable to the private sector was more clearly announced in the national TV channel “Rupavahini” yesterday in their news bulleting than what was said by the army commander and Chair of the COVID-19 controlling task force. The following is therefore based on the announcement made by “Rupavahini”.

The “Rupavahini” news bulletin said the apparel sector including the export manufacturing industry, the construction industry and retail pharmacies should continue operations during the lockdown. This is a decision that affects the lives of millions of Citizens as workers in these sectors.

As selected specialized services like security forces, health, firefighting and retail pharmacies are considered most essential in any part of the world, a government is held responsible for maintaining them during any emergency. In meeting any emergency, a government has the responsibility to keep out all other public and private sector employees from their work. Also, with considerations on practical issues, a right to impose calculated restrictions on the day-to-day life.

It was such a countrywide lockdown with “curfew for quarantine” that social representations were expected in arresting the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we have no hesitancy in saying, to have listed the apparel sector along with the export manufacturing industry and the construction industry as essential services to allow employers to keep employees at work, is total neglect of their lives’ safety when the COVID-19 pandemic is fast spreading across the country. Therefore, as a trade union representing the private sector including the apparel industry, we do not accept nor agree with the decision to keep the workers at work.

We wrote to DG Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena 04 days ago on 17 August (2021) detailing the tragic plight of the workers in the FTZs and the apparel industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A photocopy of that letter is attached herewith for your kind perusal.

We wish to stress here, apparel and export manufacturing industry workers whose contributions to our economy is an immense need to be provided safety from COVID-19 spread, as provided to all other citizens. We do not see any serious adverse impact on our economy at present by closing those factories for a week or two when assessed over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, there cannot be any reason for employers to complain about. They would only have a negligible reduction in their anticipated profits.

We, therefore, appeal to you with all urgency to,

close the apparel sector and the export manufacturing industry along with the construction industry immediately and during the period the countrywide lockdown is effective to prevent those workers from being affected and as a measure in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

announce full monthly wages without any pay cut for employees in these sectors during the period of the lockdown.

Finally, it is necessary to say with our own experience of having gone through similar lockdowns previously, this is only a primary intervention in controlling a pandemic. For complete control of the pandemic, it is necessary to

provide adequate provisions to all those who live by the day and struggle to survive lockdowns and be taken care of.

We believe your immediate attention will provide for urgent implementation of those appeals and proposals above.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

The Letter of Problematic issues arising from the declaration of curfew for quarantine from 10.00 pm August 20th to 04.00 30th August 2021.


09th August 2021

Your Excellency,

Be fore we come to the subject of this letter, we wish to thank you for the very fruitful discussion on issues related to the apparel sector, afforded on 23rd June 2021, me, the undersigned, and colleagues from some trade unions and NGOs who are the partner organizations of Clean Clothes Campaign in Sri Lanka had with your representatives.

This appeal, as the subject indicates, is to draw your attention to the serious deterioration of the democratic and civil rights of the people of Sri Lanka under the present government, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you may be aware, there was a gradual increase in violation of democratic and human rights since the new regime was voted in for power, with arbitrary arrests and detentions, outside the law and using the PTA and the ICCPR, interpreted as the law enforcement agencies wished.

Most recently, we are certain you are aware of police using COVID 19 pandemic and quarantine procedures to “illegally detain” protesting trade union leaders and activists. We refer here to the Teachers and Students who protested on 08 July (2021) against the proposed Kotelawala National Defense University (KNDU) bill scheduled to be debated in parliament.

Police obstructed and broke the peaceful protest using excessive power. Arrested President of Ceylon Teachers’ Union and others were produced in Courts before Colombo magistrate who refused to detain them as requested by the police and released them on bail. Police then requested the magistrate to send them for quarantine on the basis they violated COVID-19 prevention guidelines. The Magistrate said the Courts have no legal powers to decide on quarantine and that has to be decided by health authorities. Thereafter the police rounded them within the Court premises itself and transported them forcibly in buses to distant quarantine centers maintained by security forces.

There were over a dozen FR petitions before the Supreme Court and would be decided whether they would be given leave to proceed. But meanwhile, due to the international pressure and the whole civil society was condemning the police, the government was compelled to free them even before completing the quarantine period. But the campaign against this proposed Bill is being continued and even the university lecturers also have joined this campaign. The police have arrested around 44 teachers and some protestors as wells as the student leaders. The teachers were released on bail, but student leaders were remanded.

In the meantime, the Trade unions and Civil society organizations continuously campaigned demanding that urgent measures should be taken to curb the spread of the virus in the Free Tade Zones and the apparel sector factories and set up monitoring committees with proper processes such as,

Delegate to Medical Officers of Health (MOH) all powers necessary to establish COVID-19 Monitoring Committees for all FTZs/Industrial Parks that come within his/her area and to immediately draw up an action plan to monitor and regulate necessary measures in controlling the spread of the pandemic in FTZs/Industrial Parks.

COVID-19 Monitoring Committees of FTZs/Industrial Parks should be constituted with Public Health Inspectors (PHI), Family Health Workers (FHW), GN, worker representatives nominated from Factory Health Committees (FHC), representatives from Employers and Trade Unions.

FTZs/Industrial Parks Monitoring Committee should liaise with all FHCs.

FTZs/Industrial Parks Monitoring Committee should supervise preventive health measures adopted in transport provided for workers and their boarding places/lodgings.

PHIs and FHWs should be provided with protective gear and all necessary kits for PCR testing, vaccination for all employees, and authority to decide on quarantine necessities

Despite our continuous demands the government ignored our requests and representations and delayed the vaccination process of Free Trade Zones and Apparel sector employees, as result in May 2021 five apparel sector employees lost their lives but the companies and the government did not pay any compensation and when the undersigned requested to pay the compensation at the Tripartite Task Force meeting held on 2nd June 2021, our request was rejected on the basis that there is no legal requirement to pay compensation.

We believe the government should be pressured to stop such suppression and violation of rights. We also believe international and diplomatic pressure is very much important and needed in safeguarding democratic and human rights in Sri Lanka in this context of the pandemic when people are restricted in organizing collective and peaceful action to safeguard their rights.

We look forward to continuing our discussion to see what follow-up action can be taken and thank you for your kind attention.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

The Letter of Apparel, exports and construction sector employees reporting to work during the current quarantine curfew


24th August 2021

Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, ,
Hon Minister of Labour,
Ministry of Labour,
"Mehewara Piyasa",
7th Floor,
Colombo 05.

Hon Minister,

Apparel, exports and construction sector employees reporting to work during the current quarantine curfew

We give below the following having fully understood the responsibility of the trade unions to sustain the economy of the country. A nationwide curfew was imposed from 10.00 pm on 20th August 2021 until 4.00 am on 30th August 2021 by the President as a response to the repeated requests made by a few trade unions, different organizations and also religious leaders compelling the government for a full closure of the country to protect public from transmitting the rapidly spreading Covid 19 in the country.

Although Army Commander and Head of the National Operations Center for Prevention of Covide-19 outbreak declared this as a quarantine curfew, announcements made by newly appointed Minister of Health, Hon. Minister Johnston Fernando – Minister of Highways and the Director-General of health had contradictions.

In any case, there are no strict restrictions to continue the essential services despite the restrictions are imposed to control the COVID19 pandemic. However, authorising workers to report for industries in the apparel, exports and construction sector is a negative condition (you are aware, thousands of workers operate in many of the companies in these sectors). The following trade unions representing the National Labour Advisory Council is of the unanimous opinion that, doing so has unnecessarily increased the risk of a large number of non-essential workers are exposed to the risk of a pandemic being transmitted.

Opening Free Trade Zones and garment factories have already been identified as a factor that has increased the spread of the Covid 19 pandemic. Although, stating by the apparel company owners that the garment factory workers have thanked the government for recognising the sector as an essential service and ensuring necessary steps will be taken for the safety of its employees; we are well aware no such measures has been taken in the last year or so. Although no one was interested in taking the necessary health measures to save the workers from the epidemic, such a decision appears to have been taken to maximize profits by risking the lives of the workers in these sectors who are doing a great service to the country's economy. That a group needs.

This decision made in a context where necessary health measures to prevent the transmission of the pandemic to the workers have not been undertaken indicates that a group of individuals aims to maximize their profit in the pretext of saving the economy of the country while endangering workers of these sectors who make a great contribution to the economy.

We, the representatives of the Tripartite National Labour Advisory Council emphasise that the Ministry of Labor that holds official accountability for job security, the safety of health and life of the private sector employees and you, the Minister of Labour as the foremost authority have an immediate responsibility to mediate when such irresponsible decisions are taken. It is hereby informed that the undersigned trade union representatives of the National Labour Advisory Council have decided to request the closure of all the apparel, export and construction sectors during the quarantine curfew to safeguard the workers being infected with the virus and protect their lives with provisions for payment of due salaries during curfew from the president at the National Labour Advisory Council that is scheduled on 24th August 2021.

Further, we wish to inform you that, a motion to include this as the first item for discussion in the agenda of the National Labour Advisory Council Meeting scheduled today 24th August 2021 will be submitted by us.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Anton Marcus,
Joint Secretary,
Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union.

2022 Budget – Request on behalf of Private Sector employees


By Hand

7th October 2021

Hon Minister of Finance ,
Mr. Basil Rajapaksha ,
Finance Ministry ,
"Mehewara Piyasa",
Colombo.


Hon Minister,

2022 Budget – Request on behalf of Private Sector employees

We are aware that you are preparing the budget proposals for the year 2022 facing the challenge of presenting Government Budget Proposals to Parliament amidst the most recent catastrophe, the COVID 19 pandemic that has plunged the entire world into crisis. Therefore, we decided to submit our proposals well in advance for your convenience.



In this regard, we, the undersigned members of the National Labor Advisory Council and representatives of the private sector employees would like to state in a nutshell that those private-sector employees, especially the employees in the private sector export manufacturing have made significant contributions to the economic growth of our country even under hazardous circumstances. Therefore, we would like to draw your attention first to the following statistics which shows their contribution to the economy of the country.



Despite the initial economic downturn due to COVID 19 pandemic;



1. By August 2021, Sri Lanka had an export revenue of more than US$ 1 billion i.e., greater than the US $ 1,000 million compared to the previous year 2020.

2. In comparison to August 2020, the highest export earning in August 2021 is from the garment sector and it amounts to the US $ 491.5 million. Whereas the tea exports generated US $ 116.78 million and rubber exports the US $ 92.34 million.

Despite the risk of contracting the Covid 19 virus, the employees from every area of the private sector have made a strenuous contribution to keeping our economy afloat in the face of the current global crisis, these workers did not receive any additional allowance. Instead, they had to survive and sustain their lives with half-the-salary as they were not called to work. Thus, the gross loss of wages and other benefits to garment workers from March to May 2020 alone is estimated as the US $ 24 million. The number of job losses is also significant.

The Joint Apparel Association Forum reports that at the beginning of 2020, just as the pandemic spread, the number of direct employees was 500,000. According to their own statistics that number by far has declined up to 350,000. Its other words, the value of production acquired by exploiting five lakh workers at the beginning of last year is now achieved from nearly half the labour force. According to our knowledge, nearly six apparel sector employees have lost their lives due to COVID 19 pandemic and the situation exists in other sectors remains the same. For example, the tourist sector employees who earned the service charge more than their basic wages and now because of the pandemic they have lost not only their wages, but a considerable number of employees have lost their jobs. It is from this information relevant to the garment industry that one can understand the inhumane conditions that have pushed workers in the export manufacturing sector.



Against such a backdrop, when all other institutions were closed during the curfew which came into effect on August 20, 2021, the export manufacturing sector was declared an essential service but they were not given any special allowance adequate with the service.



According to Census and Statistics report, between September 2020 to September 2021 inflation has increased by 05.7 percentage. Therefore, the decline in their daily income, the risk of losing their jobs and contracting Covid-19 along with the increase in the price of essential commodities have made the lives of the private sector employees and their dependents unbreakably difficult.



We, the undersigned trade unions, representing the National Labor Advisory Council, after taking into consideration all the above conditions, requests you to include the following suggestions given below into the 2022 Budget proposal that you hope to present.



1. Determine the minimum Daily Wage of all private-sector employees to be made as Rs. 1,000/= and to increase the existing National Minimum Wage of Rs. 16,000/- inclusive of existing budget relief allowance up to Rs. 26,000 / =

2. Proposing to extend the salary increase to include workers who are currently entitled to a minimum monthly salary of Rs. 60,000 / =

We would also like to mention that the government has already accepted not only by policy but also in practice the increase of daily wages up to Rs. 1000/- and has also taken steps to put into operation by the Wages Board applicable to the plantation sector workers.



We kindly request the above proposals should be included in the forthcoming budget as an appreciation of the service rendered by the employees of the private sector as they have already contributed to bringing the economy of our country to a certain level of stability and as an encouragement to the employees of the private sector to take the economy of our country forward.



Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

1 Anton Marcus – Joint Secretary Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union
2 Leslie Devendra – General Secretary Sri Lanka Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya
3 Wasantha Samarasignghe - President Intercompany Employees’ Union
4 Palitha Athukoarale - President National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka
5 Robert Francis – General Secretary Ceylon Estates Services Union
6 Sylvester Jayakody – General Secretary Ceylon Mechantile Industrial and General Workers Union
7 Suranjaya Amarasighe – General Secretary United Federation of Labour
8 Channa Disanayake - President Celyon Bank Employees Union
9 Sunil De Silva – Vice President Jathika Sewaka Sangamaya
10 Chaminda Perera – Acting Secretary Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions

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