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Friday December 9th, 2022

Ensure impartiality of Brandix internal inquiry, worker rights collective requests BOI

Chamila Thushari, NPP Gampaha District Candidate

ECONOMYNEXT – Labour rights activists in Sri Lanka called on the Board of Investment (BoI) today to ensure the impartiality of an internal inquiry pledged by Brandix Apparel Limited into the growing Minuwangoda COVID-19 cluster.

“Brandix has promised an inquiry into the cluster that emerged from their Minuwangoda plant. To ensure that this inquiry is impartial, there needs to be some representation of the workers and also of the Labour Department. The Board of Investment has to ensure that,” Programme Coordinator of Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told reporters this afternoon.

Thushari was referring to a statement made by Brandix Group Chief Executive Officer Ashroff Omar in a letter sent out to Brandix staff dated October 12.

“There have been statements made that our employee safety protocol was compromised. Since the health and safety of our employees is our topmost priority, any leader, at any level, who has been negligent will be held accountable. We are conducting a comprehensive independent investigation of our factory in Minuwangoda. We will take strong action where necessary and address what needs to change in order to prevent this from happening again,” Omar wrote in the letter as published by Colombo Gazette that same day.

Thushari was flanked by activists from a number of groups and organisations at today’s press conference, many of whom highlighted concerns regarding the situation faced by workers in the free trade zone (FTZ) in light of the ongoing public health crisis.

Chandra Devanarayana, an activist from the Revolutionary Existence for human Development (RED) group said a water supply interruption at a quarantine centre in Kalutara today caused inconvenience to some 400 to 500 people, a majority of whom were women and children,

“There was no water there from 7am to 1pm today, and people quarantined there couldn’t use toilet or bathroom facilities. A lot of these people are women. Some of them are pregnant. There are children there, too,” she said.

In a statement issued yesterday, the worker rights collective accused the government of complicity in “relaxing or overlooking regulations with regard to Brandix.”

“The government continues to maintain that the outbreak has not yet progressed to a ‘community transmission’ level, but, without conducting widespread random testing, this news cannot be viewed as assuring or accurate. It now seems to have become the sole responsibility of the public to protect themselves and take necessary precautions, as it’s very unclear how widespread the virus is in the community,” the statement said.

The collective also called into question the manner in which the government and the military have handled the recent crisis. It said the way the authorities have dealt with women workers in particular has been very problematic.

“The lack of clear information/awareness, unsafe transportation, unsanitary quarantine facilities, and failing to conduct PCR tests prior to loading workers onto buses and upon admission to the centre, are in clear violation of basic COVID-19 regulations said to be adhered to by the government,” the statement noted.

The collective went onto highlight a series of incidents allegedly faced by FTZ workers.

“On the 11th of October (Sunday), at approximately 10.30pm, 45 garment factory workers (including 25 women, 1 pregnant woman and 2 children) from Liyanagemulla, Katunayake, were rounded-up by the military, and taken by bus to a makeshift quarantine facility in Kalutara. Workers had been told that there had been some COVID Positive workers residing in the neighbouring hostel, and that therefore, they had to be quarantined too,” the statement said.

“We were given seconds to get our things together and get into the bus. We were barely able to pack one change of clothes. We didn’t even have time to pack a comb! The military told us not to try and run away, that the entire place was surrounded. They (the military) treated us like prisoners. Like we had committed a national atrocity (jathika aparadayak),”the statement quoted an unnamed worker as saying.

Quoting more workers, the statement said: “We are not scolding the government. If not for our president we might all have been dead by now. But because we brought this government into power, we have a responsibility to hold them accountable to us. They need to rectify what they’re doing wrong, and proceed. There needs to be a comprehensive awareness building of all workers, gramasevakas, hostel owners etc., as to how to stay safe and manage this crisis. There is no proper system in place right now, and everything is taking place in an ad-hoc manner.”

This sentiment was echoed by Thushari at the press conference today.

“This government was elected by the workers of this country. So it has an obligation to look out for them and to be there for them,” she said. (Colombo/Oct15/2020)

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Sri Lanka shares fall on profit taking after nine sessions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka shares slipped on Friday after gaining for nine straight sessions reverting from its highest gain in more than seven weeks on profit taking, brokers said.

“Bourse regressed to red ending the 9-day winning streak as investors resorted to book profits in blue chip counters,” First Capital Market Research said in it’s daily note.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) closed 0.54 percent or 47.84 points lower at 8,843.90.

The market witnessed a turnover of 1.6 billion rupees, lower than this year’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The market saw a net foreign inflow of 1 million rupees. The total net foreign inflow stood at 22 billion rupees so far for this year.

The Paris Club group of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s prevailing currency crisis.

The government is in discussions with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank to get loans of 1.9 billion US dollars after a reform program with the International Monetary Fund is approved.

A policy loan now being discussed with the World Bank may bring around 700 million US dollars, Coomaraswamy told a business forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo-based brokerage.

The Asian Development Bank may also give around 1.2 billion US dollars most of which will be budget support, he said.

In the last few sessions, market gained after the Central bank governor said interest rates should eventually ease despite the fears of a domestic debt restructuring as inflation falls, increased liquidity in dollar markets, and the inter-bank liquidity improves.

The more liquid index S&P SL20 closed 0.59 percent or 16.77 points lower at 2,827.72.

So far in December ASPI gained 2.2 percent.

The ASPI gained 0.5 percent in November after losing 13.4 percent in October.

It has lost 27.6 percent year-to-date after being one of the world’s best stock markets with an 80 percent return last year when large volumes of money were printed.

John Keells Holdings pulled the index down to close at 1.5 percent lower at 147 rupees.

Aitken Spence lost 2.0 percent to close at 141 rupees and Commercial Bank closed 1.4 percent down at 50.50 rupees a share. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)


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Sri Lanka bond yields end higher, kerb dollar Rs370/371

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields ended up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

The US dollar was 370/371 rupees in the kerb.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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