Crossovers hit FTZ factories


By Lal Gunasekera

There are about 15,000 vacancies in factories within the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ). These factory owners desist from advertising due to the cost involved and not going through the Board of Investment (BOI) Job Bank which is not effective now. Instead, these factory owners, use a novel way of recruiting staff by way of procurers who offer employment to those workers at the FTZ bus terminal where they congregate.

The Island Financial Review learns that workers who are even in employment are offered better salaries and facilities and that there are girls who "cross over" to other factories in the FTZ. Some girls told The Island Financial Review that a trainee machine operator is employed at Rs. 8,300 a month and after permanency Rs. 8,900, and get some better facilities which include transport, food with certain factories even meeting medical claims.

One leading garment manufacturer lost the services of 700 female workers last year due to poor salaries and facilities. The poorly paid girls are left with barely any money to send to their families in remote villages in all parts of Sri Lanka once they pay their boarding fees, food, transport, and even a certain amount for the water and electricity bills. Their average earning is Rs. 15000.

The Island Financial Review learns that there are 85 factories employing 43,433 workers at the Katunayake FTZ at present. Besides poor salaries and facilities, they face rape, molestation, intimidation and sexual advances in their place on work.

The Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZGSU), Anton Markus, told The Island Financial Review that after the quota system for the US market which came under the WTO was abolished in December 2004, more factories folded up and employees lost jobs, and the recent economic crisis did not affect the garment industry much with productivity increasing, although the workforce has reduced.

He said that the income of factory owners have increased and they produce fashionable garments although at a price, and unlike the workers in Pakistan and Bangladesh, those in Sri Lanka are educated and can be trained easily.

Markus too confirmed that posters have sprung up in Katunayake FTZ area announcing vacancies and offering salaries between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 13,000. He said that the minimum wage set by the Wages Board was Rs. 5750 and although there was a proposal by the government to increase the wages of the workers by 20 percent, but the manufacturers opposed this move.

He said that the government must take the responsibility and order the factory owners to offer attractive wages to employees, which will also attract those in rural areas to find employment in FTZs.

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