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Report

22 Nov 2021

Author:
Solidarity Center

Sri Lanka: Report calls for greater support for worker organising in garment factories, amid ‘amplified’ labour rights violations during the pandemic

"Overworked and Underpaid, Sri Lanka’s Garment Workers Left Hanging by a Thread", October 2021

Garment workers in Sri Lanka face many labor law violations, different forms of discrimination and gender-based violence and harassment in their workplace, which prevents them from attaining decent and dignified work opportunities. These issues have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic…

This survey aims to identify the main issues that garment workers face in and outside of the workplace in pre- and post-pandemic contexts…

The respondents’ awareness of and access to labor rights information was weak. Respondents did not have a clear understanding of the legal terms of employment conditions...and it appears that employers are capitalizing from this lack of understanding...

Most of the worker-respondents surveyed were not unionized. This can be attributed to union-busting practices undertaken by the factories and, as a result, the difficulty for unions to continue their organizing efforts in the garment sector…

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of garment workers' lives. Workers have lost income, benefits and allowances, and have experienced delays in payment or, at times, the wholesale non-payment of their wages. Workers have also experienced increased workload and work hours, and constant switching between different production lines. Garment workers have also lost jobs due to closure, retrenchment and temporary termination. Most of the worker-respondents thought their workplace had adequate occupational health and safety measures, including the ability to adhere to COVID-19 prevention measures. However, based on the COVID-19 spread in the garment factories, it should be noted that factories are far from compliance with pandemic guidelines to ensure the health of workers.

…workers reported that harassment and discrimination is minimal in the factories. More in-depth research is required to understand whether these reports are accurate, especially since workers mentioned a high incidence of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) at other factories. In other contexts, workers can be reluctant to discuss such matters due to fears of reprisal or normalization of such practices...

...it can be concluded that factory worker rights are being violated, including but not limited to the right to organize. Thus, the need to increase workers’ awareness of their rights and provide them a platform to discuss these issues is evident…

...the research was able to identify key issues faced by the factory workers and the amplification of these issues due to the pandemic. With the violation of local laws and international labor standards, the necessity of workers organizing themselves for the protection of their rights was observed. Therefore, it is imperative to support the organizing and awareness-raising of garment factory workers in coalition with trade union partners...