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August 23, 2021

Worker safety in Sri Lanka apparel sector a priority

JAAF, the apparel industry's trade body in Sri Lanka has moved to reassure the industry that all measures are in place to ensure worker safety is a priority during the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

By Michelle Russell

The Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) in Sri Lanka says it shares the concerns being expressed about worker safety in the apparel industry as it outlines its priorities.

JAAF says the entire apparel industry is doing everything in its power to address these by working in close consultation with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other public authorities, in order to ensure that all possible measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of employees.

In granting apparel the status of an essential service is of critical importance to the national economy, it adds. The Government has taken into consideration the measures implemented by the industry as they do have a significant impact in mitigating the risk of transmission of Covid-19 infections, including the Delta variant.

JAAF says the industry is taking extensive measures in the facilities that have been granted permission to operate, including priority vaccinations, continuous monitoring, and testing.

With the assistance of public health authorities and the Sri Lankan Army, 90% of workers have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and over 50% have received their second dose.

Specifically in the BOI-operated facilities – which accounts for approximately 90% of the total workforce – more than 70% of employees have received their second dose. In the coming weeks, the entire apparel industry workforce will be completely vaccinated, JAAF says.

In line with established protocols by the MOH and the Ministry of Labour, factories carry out checks at all facilities. Workers are screened for any symptoms before they are allowed to enter factory premises, and factories ensure social distancing and have dedicated areas for people to eat, and for toilet facilities etc. Several plants also offer additional measures such as steam inhalations, sanitization stations, herbal and other healthy hot drinks.

Anyone with any visible symptom is moved to a medical facility immediately for more in-depth testing. Temperature checks are also conducted randomly and frequently during the day on shop floors, and appropriate action is taken if necessary.

Plants are also adhering to the testing protocols issued by the Ministry of Health, which includes random testing and daily reporting of these results. These are also discussed and shared with the local health authorities through an online mechanism that has been set up. Further, local health authorities are in close contact with plants to help ensure that the workplace is as safe as practically possible.

Additionally, there is a “robust” mechanism in place to hold any facility that violates health protocols responsible.

Healthcare infrastructure has also been a priority, according to JAAF. The industry has supported the establishment of 11 Intermediate Care Centres with close to 4,500 beds available for employees. Another two centres are under construction, which will bring the number of beds to 5,000. Individual factories are adding to this infrastructure.

The importance of the sector to its economy as a provider of jobs, a source of investment and as an export-earner is well-accepted, JAAF says. During this pandemic, the industry’s economic responsibility gains additional importance, with more than 80% of the workforce – the vaccinated group – having returned to work.

“We appreciate their determination and commitment to putting the economy back on its feet at this difficult time,” says Secretary General of JAAF, Tuli Cooray. “For our part, we will do everything in our power to ensure they stay safe and protected, by pandemic-proofing workspaces, making sure they are all vaccinated completely and that the protective measures and healthcare infrastructure is available to them and their families.”

The government has instituted a lockdown for the next ten days while exempting essential services, including the apparel industry. This is to keep the economy moving and ensure momentum is maintained on both fronts; keeping people safe and the wheels of the economy turning without compromising on safety. It is vital that in expressing concerns, stakeholders do not induce unwarranted panic and fear among the workforce involved in essential services, says JAAF.

In June, Sri Lankan garment manufacturers launched a plea for brands and retailers to operate fairly as the country was getting to grips with a third coronavirus wave and a vaccine delay was impacting the supply of orders.

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