Several garment factory workers denied right to vote

By Vyshnavy Velrajh

Several employees of a number of garment factories in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are reportedly unable to exercise their franchise at tomorrow’s General Elections.

The Programs Coordinator of the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, Sugath Rajapaksa told the Colombo Gazette that several garment factories in the FTZ have informed their employees that it was compulsory to report to work today (04) and on Thursday (06).

Following an outcry by some employees who intended to cast their ballots for the General Elections 2020 to be held tomorrow (Wednesday) the management of several factories in the FTZ had decided to provide leave today (04) and tomorrow (05) to enable the workers to cast their votes.

However, employees were requested to depart to their respective hometowns today and return before their relevant shifts on Thursday.

They were further informed that those who fail to return on time for their next shift on Thursday (06) will face a pay cut on their daily wages, Rajapaksa said.

Meanwhile, a garment factory employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Colombo Gazette that factory workers pointed out that the time period granted by the managements of factories in the FTZ to cast their ballots was inadequate due to various logistical issues, including a lack of transport.

She said some factory management also impose a pay cut on their daily wages amounting to Rs. 4000 if they delay in returning to work on the said date.

‘Nearly 300 – 400 employees work at per garment factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. We faced this same issue during the last Presidential election in November 2019. Many faced a pay cut of up to Rs. 4000. No alternative solution has been provided. Most of us live in distant areas where there is a lack of transport preventing us from returning to work on time. We cannot afford to face a pay cut. We do not have the necessary funds to travel back and forth to cast our ballots’, she said.

Programs Coordinator of the Katunayake FTZ Sugath Rajapaksa further said the Chairman of the National Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya was informed in this regard and was requested to organize a separate polling centre at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone for the convenience of the garment factory workers.

However, the Election Commission has failed to address the issue or provide an alternative solution.

He added that the garment factory workers believe that inadequate time to vote has been intentionally provided by the managements of the factories in the FTZ to enable them to downsize their workforce to face the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the fear of losing their employment or facing a pay cut, several garment factory workers in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone today decided to forego their voting rights for the General Elections 2020 to be held tomorrow (05), Sugath Rajapaksa added. (Colombo Gazette)

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