Several rights groups advocating for the rights of female workers in the Free Trade Zone expressed their concerns on the manner in which garment workers were taken to quarantine centres.
“The media has criminalized them and instead they are being treated like criminals,” said Chamila Thushari, Programme Coordinator at Dabindu Collective. “Army personnel have raided boarding rooms and say the workers have only 5-10 minutes to pack their bags and get into a bus. They don’t know where they are being taken to, there are no Public Health Officers around and most of them don’t even have masks. There are children going with them and are shifted from one bus to another and risk of being infected is extremely high. Why are they being given such secondary treatment?” She questioned.
Thushari further said that these workers live in small rooms, which are being shared by two or three people and there are around 50-100 of them sharing one toilet. “These workers are being quarantined in poor conditions while the elite are being quarantined in star class hotels. The companies got work from them since September but they didn’t get leave. We like to know the sources, the situation in India and the stance of the government with regard to this issue. After all these workers don’t deserve to be ignored as they are the live wires in one of the biggest industries that bring foreign revenue to the country. So the government, media and public should stop criminalizing them.”
The representatives further said the Board of Investments, Labour Department and apparel manufacturing companies should be held responsible for this situation.
Adding his comments, General Secretary of Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers Union Sylvester Jayakody questioned what the companies have been doing from the profits they gained. “They get GSP profits, investments etc., but have failed to pay salaries for these workers. These women work on a pittance and discussions were underway to see whether their working hours could be further extended.”
However, Attorney-at-law Priyalal Sirisena said that a writ petition has been filed at the Appeal Court calling on the government to follow international quarantine regulations and protect the rights of these poor garment factory workers. (Kamanthi Wickramasinghe)