Stranded Katunayake Export Processing Zone workers sent home yesterday
Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
- Effective in spite of measures taken to shut down some idling factories
- Labour Commissioner orders to pay March and the basic salary for April
- Commissioner also urges the need to be rational, as these companies may also be in a tough spot with loss of business
The government has requested all Board of Investment (BOI) companies to pay the March and April salaries of their employees despite measures taken to shut down some idling factories and send their workers who were stranded since curfew was imposed, home.
The government and the BOI later this week decided to temporarily close down the idling factories of the zones, whose businesses had been totally disrupted but permitted others to continue to engage in manufacturing depending on orders.
Those who manufacture essential medical supplies were also allowed to operate but under strict guidelines to safeguard their employees.
However, last morning several thousands workers who were at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone (EPZ) to board the buses provided by their employers and the BOI to go home, claimed they were neither paid their March salary nor were they tested properly for COVID-19, though just
“We have requested them (employers) to pay the March salary and the basic salary for April,” said the Commissioner General of Labour, A. Wimalaweera.
Wimalaweera however urged everybody to be realistic of the situation as these companies might also be in a tough spot with the loss of business due to the slowdown in global trade.
The largest global buyers of Sri Lankan produce, particularly the textiles and garments are in the West, and those regions have now become new hotbeds for COVID-19 and have been locked down to prevent the spread of the virus.
As a result, many of these companies have lost orders from their overseas buyers.
The salaries of EPZ workers are usually paid on the 10th day of the month and hence the March salary is due on April 10.
While the State sector salaries for March were paid early, the Finance Ministry yesterday advanced the April salary to be paid before April 10 while pensions to be paid on the 3rd.
Private sector employees normally receive their salaries either during the fourth week of the month or before. Most, if not all of the EPZ workers, who are blue-collar workers live on paycheck to paycheck. Multiple attempts to reach the Executive Director of BoI Zones, M.K.D. Lawrance to know if any arrangements were made to advance their salaries proved futile as he didn’t respond to calls or to messages.
When asked two days ago whether these workers sent home were given paid leave, he said he was not sure and passed the matter to the Labour Commissioner.
“I am not sure. It is a matter to be decided by the Labour Commissioner,” he said.
He also refuted reports about some thousands of employees being stranded in their places of lodging and said the actual number was much lower.
Meanwhile, another segment of workers who are very badly affected from the prolonged curfew are the daily wage earners engaged in informal work, and the gig workers due to their inability to engage in their normal livelihoods.