Efforts to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on workers in Asia are described as "limited"

Efforts to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on workers in Asia are described as "limited"

Garment workers in global supply chains are especially exposed to risks linked to the global Covid-19 crisis, but how are the governments in key production countries in Asia responding?

According to the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, efforts to mitigate the impact have been limited.

The group, which works to address poverty level wages, gender discrimination, and freedom of association in global garment production networks, notes that as the pandemic turns into an economic and labour market shock, apparel brands are cancelling or postponing orders and deferring payments to suppliers. 

This has forced many suppliers to lay off or suspend workers in garment factories, without any social protection, or paid leave, pushing an already precarious group of workers to greater economic vulnerabilities. 

"Equally disturbing are reports from some countries that workers are still forced to continue work in factories where employers are unwilling to ensure adequate precautions, leaving workers, their families and communities at risk of infection," it says.

Three trends have been identified with respect to the degree of institutional response on Covid-19 in garment-producing countries in Asia.

#1: Governments are taking stringent measures to reduce the direct health effects of Covid-19 while also providing economic support for workers:

Sri Lanka – Factories in some regions, under government directives, have shut down, with workers entitled to paid leave. Factories that are still operational have to follow adequate health and safety measures due to stringent directives from the Sri Lankan government. 

India – until last week most factories continued to work without taking adequate steps to prevent occupational exposure to Covid-19. However, from 23 March onwards, factories across most states in India have closed down until 31 March under strict directives from state governments. Additionally, the Indian government has also issued an order stating that workers must not be terminated nor face a reduction of wages due to this crisis. The order also states that workers are entitled to fully paid leave till this crisis is mitigated.

#2: Governments are issuing voluntary codes of conduct to factories to mitigate direct health effects while also promising some economic support for workers:

Cambodia and Myanmar – A shortage of raw materials from China has forced many factories to halt production, with thousands of workers suspended. 

In Cambodia, the government has issued guidelines for workplace health and safety to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Also, factories that have suspended operations must pay 40% of the minimum wages to workers. An additional 20% of the wages will be provided by the Cambodian government for workers who have enrolled in soft skills training programmes organized by the Cambodian Ministry of Labour. 

In Myanmar, many workers who have been laid off have not been compensated, and the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has announced that factories that refuse to pay workers' salaries will be banned from continuing operations.

#3: Governments are issuing voluntary guidelines for factories to mitigate direct health effects of Covid-19 and ensuring no economic and employment policies to protect workers:

Indonesia – The government has only issued health and safety guidelines for factories that continue to operate and some factories seem to be adhering to these precautionary measures.