Oct 08, 2020

Brandix tragedy all about modern slavery - Anton Marcus Featured

The Minuwangoda Brandix Lanka factory tragedy speaks volumes of how the workers had been used as modern-day slaves, says Anton Marcus, the Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zone & General Services Employees' Union (FTZ&GSEU).

A statement issued by the FTZ&GSEU to mark the 'World Day of Decent Work' which was held on Oct. 07, notes heavy exploitation of the workers at the Brandix Lanka factory at Minuwangoda.

"As Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) has officially informed the Labour Minister, they have in June this year earned 382.4 million USD as against 481.3 in June 2019, 441.9 million USD in July as against 452.0 in July 2019 and 416.7 million USD in August as against 472.6 in August 2019. All this by heavy exploitation of half the workforce they employed in the pre-COVID-19 period, adding on to their profits the wages and EPF/ETF contributions saved," the statement notes.

Modern-day slavery
"Minuwangoda Brandix Lanka factory tragedy speaks volumes of how the workers had been used as modern-day slaves... We firmly believe, if required precautionary measures were effectively in place, there would have been no possibility for half the workforce to contract the COVID-19 virus.

The statement quotes Chief Epidemiologist - Dr Sudath Samaraweera as to saying that they had noticed respiratory diseases in some factory workers since Sep. 20 even though the female factory worker who first tested positive, had developed symptoms on Sep. 28.

"This total negligence of human lives may not be any different in other apparel company factories too. Apparel industry that pays no attention to Decent Work, will not have COVID-19 prevention measures in their factories, for that would restrict extreme exploitation of workers," it adds.

Request to Tripartite Taskforce
The FTZ&GSEU also points out they proposed to the Tripartite Taskforce appointed by the Labour Ministry to establish Health committees at every enterprise to ensure decisions taken by the Taskforce are implemented and to monitor guidelines set by health authorities and precautionary measures at factories.

"Sadly, the labour department has not enforced these steps and have allowed employers the discretion to act as they please," they add.

Unethical media practices
The statement also criticises the unethical conduct of media, including state media, which had slandered the initially affected female worker.

Not slander, but 'Decent Work'
"We, therefore, wish to stress that the apparel industry employs over 80% young females, who come from mainly rural households and carry with them family responsibility. What they need therefore is not insults and slander but 'Decent Work' and that is the social responsibility all media should shoulder."

"In conclusion, we call upon the labour department to enforce all conditions necessary for Decent Work that would provide workers with a respectable and secure life and a reputation without guilt for the apparel and export manufacture sector," the statement concludes.