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Add FTZ apparel workers to vaccine priority list: labour rights groups

Sri Lankan Garment Factory/apparelresources.com

ECONOMYNEXT – Labour rights activists in Sri Lanka have urged the government to add apparel workers to the country’s vaccination priority list as new sub clusters are forming in the Katunayake and Biyagama free trade zones (FTZs). Activists have also asked that the government intervene in the PCR testing conducted by apparel companies within the FTZs.

“These workers have been working since the start of the pandemic to keep the economy afloat. Several clusters are again forming in the zone, which has been neglected by the authorities,” Programme Coordinator of the Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told Economy Next.

With the emergence of the second wave last October, the Board of Investments of Sri Lanka requested all export companies in Katunayaka to direct five percent of their employees to company-paid PCR tests per week to identify possible positive patients in the factory. Thushari claimed PCR tests in the FTZ have seen a considerable drop due to the costs involved.

“What we ask is to prioritise these workers in the FTZ since they have been working since the first wave,” she said.

Over the past three days, 100 workers Katunayake tested positive for the virus.

According to Thushari, most of the workers employed in different companies are boarded in the same hostels and share bathrooms and other limited sanitary facilities, increasing the likelihood of these workers carrying the virus even if they may not show symptoms.

“There was a case where one worker was in the hostel for four days after testing positive and before being taken to a treatment center. Her close contacts are still coming in to work,” said Thushari.

Meanwhile, vaccination of residents in the area is ongoing without a plan in place to administer it to the workers, Thushari said.

“Katunayaka was named a high risk area because workers in the zone tested positive, not because residents got the virus,” said Thushari, adding that vaccination taking place at several locations in the area for residents only.

On top of this, she said, some FTZ workers are refusing to take the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine due to misinformation about the jab.

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“Many workers are refusing to get the vaccine due to the fear of side effects which have not been proven scientifically. The authorities don’t have a plan to educate the nurses. They had much more interest in drinking the ‘Dhammika paniya’ than getting the vaccine,” she said.

Meanwhile, National Centre for Trade Zone Workers Convener Gamini Rathnayaka said 1,037 workers have tested positive for the virus in the Biyagama and Katunayaka zones and more PCR tests need to be conducted with state intervention.

“The owners of these companies want only to complete their orders without a care about the well-being of workers,” Rathnayaka told reporters yesterday, adding that said sub clusters have started to emerge in the FTZs.

Reported by Chanka Jayasinghe (Colombo/Mar15/2021)

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