Sri Lanka's garment industry, responsible for over 50% of the country's export earnings, is in crisis as about 50,000 workers have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn.
Sri Lanka has 300 manufacturing companies that employ 350,000 workers, producing garments for international brands such as Victoria's Secret, Marks & Spencer, GAP, Tommy Hilfiger, and Van Heusen.
Trade unions report that several garment factory owners in Sri Lanka have cut jobs and wages and closed entire facilities without paying the government-recommended compensation. Unions are concerned about expected labor reforms, including increasing the number of overtime hours and night shifts for women, which could exploit the existing workforce.
Most of the workers in the garment industry are women who migrated to support their families and have suffered from crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the government deemed the industry too important to shut down, causing mass outbreaks in factories and workers' homes.
The government is not interested in dialogue between social partners, according to a factory operations manager.