Apparel sector will be hit if workers not vaccinated before May - Industry experts | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Apparel sector will be hit if workers not vaccinated before May - Industry experts

14 February, 2021
A. Sukumaran
A. Sukumaran

Apparel sector experts calling on the Government to expedite vaccinating apparel sector workers, said if workers are not vaccinated before May this year, there would be major repercussions on the sector and the economy. 

 “Vaccinating the  350,000 export sector workers in the apparel sector is imperative to meet customer needs,” Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAFSL) Chairperson A. Sukumaran said. He was speaking at a virtual forum on “Recovery of Sri Lanka’s Apparel Sector from the Covid-19 Crisis,” hosted by the Institute of Policy Studies recently.

“There is a global demand for apparel but Sri Lanka is falling short in meeting deadlines and important clients are moving towards competitors who are supplying without any delay,” Sukumaran said, adding that  Sri Lanka has a reputation as a reliable supplier and that it is now under threat.  He added that the apparel sector was ready to bear the cost of the vaccinations and requested the government to help them source the required vaccinations. The apparel sector represents 47% of Sri Lanka’s exports. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the Sri Lankan economy. The apparel sector which accounts for a large fraction of our export market was hard hit by the pandemic, particularly during the second wave.

He said building a fabric park in the Eastern Province as proposed in the 2021 Budget will help the industry grow tremendously as we will not bear the brunt of depending on China for raw materials and key players such as the USA are looking to shift from China for raw materials thus the fabric park will be a key in long-term growth. 

“Apparel SMEs were severely affected due to Covid-19 and the major issues faced by the sector were: cash shortages, worker absenteeism, mobility issues, scarcity of raw material, increased cost of production, and loss in demand. The second wave worsened an already difficult situation,” Lesova Holdings Ltd., Director MalithJayasinghe  said. “The pandemic was a unique external challenge thus the Health Ministry had to come into play.

Most of the laws and health guidelines are issued under the quarantine law; that is under the Health Ministry and the DG, Health Services is the authority for that. “Even though we say that it is the labour laws that prevail in the factories, for pandemic-related issues, it is the health guidelines we have to obey.

The Department of Labour cannot intervene when quarantine laws are violated,” Labour Commissioner MadhavieGunawardena said.

She said, however, the Labour Department has been working actively to address complaints made, and encouraged workers to contact the Department if they face any genuine difficulties. The panel featured Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAFSL) Chairperson A. Sukumaran; Labour Commissioner MadhavieGunawardena; and Lesova Holdings Ltd. Director MalithJayasinghe. IPS Research Economist KithminaHewage moderated the discussion.