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Sri Lanka: Quarter of country’s COVID cases linked to Brandix factory after symptomatic workers told to keep working

“Garment Workers on the Frontline of the Pandemic: Outbreak in Sri Lanka”, 15 October 2020

Sri Lanka’s worst Covid-19 outbreak has originated from a Brandix garment factory: 1,036 employees and 361 of their close contacts have tested positive … workers … have exposed how they were initially told to keep working to meet targets when they reported the onset of symptoms.

… [T]he global fashion industry’s ‘race to the bottom’ has resulted in poverty pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions. Crowded factories with poor ventilation … create environments ripe for the spread of infectious diseases.

In an attempt to control the spread of Covid-19, the military was called in on 11 October to round-up workers … to forcibly take them to makeshift quarantine centres…

Workers have reported that makeshift quarantine centres are not clean, that toilets are flooded and unsanitary…

Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary of FTZ&GSEU, said in a letter to the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19:

"Decent work is about right to employment, to begin with, and that employers should provide a living wage for the employee and the family. It should ensure workplace safety without discrimination and the right to of employees to organise as trade unions."

To Government authorities, Labor department, Board of Investment and Brands

… [E]mployers act without any responsibility towards their employees.

Therefore, we urge all parties to work with transparency for the safety of the nearly 50,000 employees working in the Katunayake area.

Therefore, our demands are,

  • All factories should be systematically inspected by the Government and the Department of Labor to ensure that the factories in the export sector comply with the safety guidelines prescribed by the Government.
  • … [T]est all employees in the Free Trade Zones now and from then on to set up a randomized testing program to detect and prevent infection in advance.
  • … [P]rovice proper treatment to all employees detected with COVID-19.
  • … [E]nsure that salaries are paid to all employees without any deductions.
  • … [E]nsure that the food and medical needs of workers in boarding’s are met if a long-term curfew is to be declared.
  • Brandix should be transparent about…
    • [W]hether there is a risk of the virus spreading … to any of the other factories within the Brandix chain.
    • … [M]easures taken for the safety of the employees…

Request for Independent Inquiry into present outbreak…

We … call upon you to appoint a special investigation committee … to investigate the "outbreak and spread of COVID-19 virus at Brandix factory…

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