A fact finding mission by FORUM-ASIA and LST Sri Lanka have investigated the precarious working conditions of garment workers in selected export processing zones in Sri Lanka.
Their report provides recommendations to the government as well as to factories, international brands, civil society organisations and trade unions on how to improve the working conditions of workers in EPZs.
Titled ‘Threads of Injustice’, it says Sri Lanka’s apparel sector has experienced rapid growth, with 44 per cent of the country’s total exports consisting of apparels.
Approximately 15 per cent of the country’s labour force is employed in the apparel sector.
And yet, they receive unfair wages and are made to endure unsafe and discriminatory working conditions.
FORUM-ASIA and LST conducted a fact-finding mission from October to December 2022 in three export processing zones in the Western Province.
The FFM documented the challenges faced by casual workers (commonly referred to as manpower workers) in Katunayake, Biyagama, and Wathupitiwala EPZs.
The FFM report sheds light on the various labour law violations in the Sri Lankan apparel sector.
It also outlines the stark differences between permanent factory workers and manpower workers.
Manpower workers are a high vulnerability group within the apparel sector since they do not receive any benefits or protection through statutory obligations placed on an employer or the third party contractor (manpower agency) which recruits them.
Manpower workers are paid on a per day basis.
They do not receive any health insurance, social security benefits, and overtime pay.
They are often made to complete high-risk and labour-intensive tasks without wearing any safety equipment.
The FFM collected evidence through focus group discussions, individual case interviews, and interviews with subject matter experts.
Based on the testimonies of permanent factory workers and manpower workers, the FFM report provides recommendations to the government as well as to factories, international brands, civil society organisations, and trade unions on how to improve the working conditions of workers in EPZs.
This report is a synthesis of formal interviews, focus group discussions and desk research by FORUM-ASIA and its partner LST Sri Lanka.