The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to have claimed the equivalent of 235 million jobs across the Asia Pacific region.
In Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the virus is threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs in the garment industries, but unions there are fighting to protect workers with support from UnionAID donors in New Zealand.
In Bangladesh, the employment of about 30,000 garment workers has been illegally terminated, while some 200,000 workers have still not been compensated for completed work.
With no universal social security and few savings, the workers and their families are facing significant hardship.
Until the pandemic hit, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) of Bangladesh, had been increasing union membership and strengthening collective organisation.
With UnionAID’s support over 50 delegates were trained and nearly 5,000 new members recruited last year.
DEFENDING WORKERS’ RIGHTS
Now the union needs help to fund its organisation, as revenue from membership fees has dried up.
With a return to pre-pandemic employment levels expected to take months or years, the sustainability of the union is at risk.
UnionAID will be supporting the union to retain its organisers so they can respond to the needs of garment workers.
This includes challenging labour law violations and campaigning to push employers and the government to support workers.
SAVING JOBS IN SRI LANKA
In Sri Lanka, half a million garment workers are facing job losses and health risks due to Covid-19.
The risk of virus transmission is high in their cramped workplaces, while global demand for garments has fallen.
But the Free Trade Zones Union (FTZ&GSEU) in Sri Lanka has so far led a successful campaign to safeguard both jobs and health.
The union has played a key role in negotiating a tripartite agreement for factories.
This has enabled all staff to be retained through a rotation system allowing physical distancing. Workers are guaranteed no less than 50-75% of their standard hours and pay.
But making sure factories implement the agreement is a huge task. Already 400 redundancies are threatened at a factory supplying major brands.
The crisis has hit the ability of members to fund their union. But the support of UnionAID means organisers can continue to make sure workers are paid, safe and their jobs are protected.
UnionAID is the New Zealand union movement’s international development charity.
The generosity of donors like the PSA enables it to respond to the urgent needs of unions in the region at a time when they are facing huge challenges and their resources are at risk.
Go to www.unionaid.org.nz/donate to help make a difference.
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