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EPZ workers ask EU to ensure labour rights monitoring

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Stand Up Movement Lanka organisation yesterday (30 September) urged that a proper monitoring system be implemented in order to ensure the rights of labourers in Sri Lanka, if the European Union’s (EU) Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade concessions are going to be granted to Sri Lanka next year.

“Governments have gained these concessions by hiding the labour and human rights violations that are taking place in the country. They have always painted the wrong picture, especially about the livelihoods and working conditions of the employees in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs). If the GSP+ concession is going to be given to Sri Lanka, then there must be a proper monitoring system and programme to ensure that labour rights are protected. If this is not done, this country is not suitable to receive GSP+,” said Movement’s Convenor Ashila Dandeniya at a press conference held yesterday.

She alleged that although the service of employees in the EPZs was deemed essential during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Labour Department was closed, which made it difficult for workers to access the necessary services pertaining to their labour rights.

“GSP+ is given after checking the progress of human and labour rights in the country. If the country does not protect the labour rights of the labourers who are working to supply the market that gives us GSP+, then, on behalf of whom are we asking for GSP+? If labour rights are not protected, then the GSP+ benefits are only going to one group of people amongst the higher economic classes,” noted Dandeniya.

The organisation has also written to the EU earlier this week in this regard. In its letter, the organisation noted that about 50,000 workers in the EPZs have, to date, contracted the coronavirus due to the failure of factory owners to take measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the factories. It further claimed that factory owners are neglecting their responsibilities concerning isolating workers who test positive for the virus; instead opting to send them to their hostels or boarding rooms. Thus, adequate quarantine facilities are not being provided for them.

The GSP+ trade concessions Monitoring Mission arrived in Sri Lanka on 27 September and is due to remain in the country till 5 October.