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MAS factory workers in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka, discuss concerns over pandemic

Workers of the MAS Holdings-owned Vaanavil and Vidiyal garment factories in Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka are working without social distancing or adequate health facilities to protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 3,000 young workers, mainly female, employed in these factories are concerned about the raging pandemic in the country and globally. MAS-owned Bodyline factories at Horana and Agalawatte in Western Province were temporarily closed early this month, as dozens of workers were found to be infected. These factories were soon reopened, despite workers’ concerns amid the disastrous pandemic situation globally and in Sri Lanka.

Textile workers at Kilinochchi

MAS is the largest garment-producing multinational in South Asia, with factories in 15 countries employing around 99,000 workers. It produces apparel for international brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Marks & Spencer and Calvin Klein.

In early October, more than thousand workers were found to be infected at Minuwangoda Brandix Fashion Wear. Before that, workers had been forced to work even after there were indications and symptoms of infection. Brandix is another major garment company in Sri Lanka, employing more than 50,000 workers at different facilities.

The Government Agent of Kilinochchi, Roobavathi Ketheeswaran, said: “Six persons have been identified as corona-positive cases and 516 persons are isolated in the Kilinochchi district. All schools are closed again, because a 71-year-old man was identified as corona-positive on Monday [November 23] in the district.”

Sri Lanka’s official COVID-19 cases have increased to more than 22,000 yesterday, with 99 deaths. The low numbers are mainly a result of very limited testing. President Gotabhaya Rajapakse lifted a partial lockdown in the Western Province early this month, declaring that the government had opted for “carrying our normal activities while controlling the disease.” In effect, he was asking people to live with the surge of the pandemic, accepting it as the “new normal.”

Government institutions and private companies are forced to remain open, and employees must report for work. The government is implementing these norms ruthlessly. President Rajapakse declared 15,000 port workers were performing essential service on November 17, when their attendance went down as dozens of workers had been tested positive, in order to force them all back to work.

All the opposition parties, including the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are supporting the government’s murderous policies.

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