Primacy of psychological and physical wellbeing of apparel sector employees underscored

By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The apparel sector is the biggest earner of export income in the country, yet the industry has not taken proper steps to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of its employees, chairman, Rangiri Holdings Nihal Pathirage said.

“At present more than one million male and female employees are in the sector and those employees are facing major psychological and personal issues, among others. These issues could lead to an exodus of employees from the sector in the future. Therefore, I am planning to set up productivity centres in the Export Processing Zones to promote the productivity of these employees. Besides plans are afoot to develop cooperation among the different categories of staff, besides launching staff motivational programs for them, Pathirage told The Island Financial Review.

Pathirage added: ‘Sri Lanka has 20 Zones throughout the country and we will be setting up the first productivity centre at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. This will mainly serve the industry and promote skills among apparel sector workers, which help to bring dollars into the country.

‘The Sri Lankan apparel manufacturing sector today has about 300 factories that generated export revenues of US $ 5.40 billion in 2021. Over 1.10 million people are directly affected by the prevailing situation in the country in just the apparel sector alone because most of the employees suffer personal and psychological issues, which need to be addressed urgently for the future progress of the industry.

‘The apparel accessory business directly employs 400,000 workers and indirectly employs a further two million workers. The bulk of garment production takes place in Free Trade Zones, where the workers are mainly migrant women from rural areas, who are going through major psychological and personal issues.

‘One of the other main issues the industry encounters is that our trained staff/ work force is going to other countries, such as Bangladesh, India and some African countries, which is detrimental to the sector in the medium to long term perspectives.

‘Sri Lanka is globally renowned for its ethical practices when handling labour. Under the guidelines issued by the Board of Investments, all plants operate employee councils where employees and employers work together on resolving matters through mutual concern. Although it is satisfactory, it needs some more attention to look into their psychological wellbeing, productivity and mutual cooperation.

‘With the pandemic causing significant disruption to Sri Lanka’s economy, our vision of elevating the country to a $ 8 billion global apparel hub by 2025 is now perhaps more critical than ever. This growth is envisaged through value addition and further evolving from contracted apparel manufacturing for buying offices to end-to-end solutions for leading global brands and retailers, spanning innovation to last-mile delivery.’

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