Calls for a rights-based approach in employing workers in new factories in the North and East emerged at a round-table discussion in Colombo this week.
Soon after the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity (ACILS) presented a study on the impact of the economic crisis on migrant, garments and tourism workers, the discussion that followed veered towards the possible exploitation of workers in the new industries emerging in the post-war Northeast region. “I feel there could be a lot of exploitation of workers in garment factories and others in these two regions. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure this doesn’t happen,” said Anton Marcus, a well-known trade union leader in the garments industry.
Palitha Athukorala, another garment industry union leader, suggested that trade unions in these two regions need to be properly equipped and trained to ensure no exploitation takes place.
Referring to ACILS’ rapid assessment study (conducted between December 2009 and January 2010, Mr Marcus said it confirms their view in the past that many garment workers lost their jobs not because of the economic crisis but since factories wanted to cut costs and reduce previous worker benefits.
Sometimes they close a factory, sack the staff, and reopen as a new entity,” he said, adding that there are actually many vacancies in the garment sector which are not being filled due to low wages, among other issues. Most of those who lost their jobs or resigned from their employment during 2009 in these three sectors (garments, migrants and tourism) didn’t point their finger at the economic crisis as the reason why they lost their job or had to resign from their employment, the ACILS study revealed.