Apparel Sector to introduce industry advisors to strengthen occupation safety and health measures through The Better Work Initiative [Press Release]

March 2, 2023

The Better Work Sri Lanka programme of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) recently concluded a three-month series of Master Trainer workshops on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in the apparel sector, where participants were trained on facilitation skills and techniques, communication skills, and technical aspects of OSH, including management systems. The next phase of the Better Work Programme will equip the master trainers with the necessary tools to become ‘Industry Advisors’ and establish bipartite committees within the apparel industry.

This unique initiative in promoting enterprise-level bipartite OSH committees is spearheaded by Better Work Sri Lanka, is carried out in partnership with The Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the Employees Federation of Ceylon (EFC), Ministry of Labour and representatives from Trade Unions.

Head of The Better Work Sri Lanka Programme, Kesava Murali Kanapathy, noted that such programmes would be imperative in promoting workplace safety, especially where creating a safe and healthy working environment has recently been declared a fundamental principle and right at work by the ILO.

“The workshops have been a journey of learning for the participants where we witnessed social dialogue in action. Different constituents were provided with a platform where they discussed common challenges, identified areas of improvement, and found solutions collectively – this is a unique outcome of the training,” Kanapathy said.

The seventy participants whom partnering institutions nominated will go on to implement a common guideline on OSH with the guidance of ILO and relevant stakeholders to improve current practices at their workplace.

Secretary General of the Joint Apparel Association Forum Yohan Lawrence stressed that while the apparel sector gives prominence to worker safety, it was essential to continuously equip and expand the employees’ knowledge of OSH to ensure Sri Lanka’s apparel sector remains an ethical manufacturing destination. Currently, representatives from 30 apparel institutions were nominated by JAAF to be trained as OSH industry advisors.

“In December 2021, we entered into a landmark MOU with Trade Unions to ensure we build safer workplaces, through a collaborative approach, especially during the pandemic. By being part of the Better Work programme, which enabled this partnership to come to fruition, we saw all stakeholders hold conversations with trust and openness, keeping the workers’ wellbeing in the forefront.” Secretary General of the Joint Apparel Association Forum Yohan Lawrence said.

Convenor of the Textile, Garment and Clothing Workers Union (TGCWU), Lalitha Dedduwakumara noted that the Master Training Workshop assisted their membership in looking at OSH in a different light.
“This programme strengthened our relationship with stakeholders like JAAF as well as EFC and changed our perception of how we communicate with each other. Furthermore, as someone who has worked on the factory floor, the understanding I had of OSH then is different from how I view it now. I believe initiatives like this give us the necessary tools to ensure we give prominence to worker safety across all levels in the sector, and it’s a responsibility for all of us involved,” Lalitha said.

As an extension to the ILO and IFC, the Better Work Sri Lanka Programme, together with JAAF hopes to conduct a series of programmes to assist in promoting a culture of safety amongst its membership. Guidance has also been sought to promote EUs Due Diligence requirements amongst apparel factories which require companies to respect human rights and the environment in global value chains.

“Our hope is to create a culture of occupational safety rather than a culture of compliance requirements. This programme is a testament to how collaborations can be successful and promote workplace cooperation through OSH. What we need now is to create a national dialogue and strengthen our labour laws that prioritize workplace safety. JAAF and other stakeholders have been supportive in this endeavour, and we look forward to future partnerships like this.” Kanapathy concluded.