SRI LANKA: Garment workers to battle for better wages

COLOMBO: A “Living Wage” campaign will be launched by Garment worker as the current wages are not enough to live on. This is mainly due to the increase in cost of living which is making it difficult to make both ends meet. The campaign will be launched in October.

From October to end-November, thousands of garment workers are to start on a variety of events from lamp lightings, demonstrations and awareness rallies, to put pressure on companies and the government, to increase their wages.

The Apparel Industry Labour Rights Movement (ALaRM), a coalition of trade unions and worker’s rights organizations is leading the movement for the apparel sector.

The main objectives of the campaign are to ensure the payment of the minimum wage of Rs 5,000 and the Budgetary Relief Allowance of Rs.1,000 to each employee. Salaries of garment workers were increased earlier this year but activists and workers say salaries are not enough to live on.

A survey conducted by ALaRM in 2005, found that the minimum monthly salary of a garment worker in the Free Trade Zones should be Rs 12,504 and for a worker a salary of Rs 10,183 is required to have a decent life and send home some money.
But salaries of most garment workers are still below Rs 10,000 per month.

Most of the garment workers do not get Rs 10,000 per month. Most of them earn about Rs 8,000 – Rs 9,000 per month including the over time. With costs of essential items continually increasing, workers are spending increasing portions of their incomes on bare basics. When workers do not make enough to cover costs, many that do not receive all three meals at their factories, cut down on food, leading to poor nutrition. Poor nutrition in turn, contributes to lower productivity.

Garment workers get a minimum salary of Rs 6,000. This is with the stipulated basic minimum wage of Rs 5,000 and another Rs 1,000 from the Budgetary Relief Allowances Act.

Garment workers are mainly girls who live in a boarding and have additional expenses like rent, food, travel expenses and other things they need and also send some money hack home. The salaries they earn now are not enough to do all this.

The garment sector is already faced with vacancies that it cannot fill. The main reason for the unfilled vacancies is the poor salary. Global garment markets are becoming increasingly price competitive. So to remain in business, many Sri Lankan garment factories are trying to increase output and bring down unit costs. But the strategy is not working because of the rate of increase of cost of living in the country. Costs - of both garment factories and garment workers are going up eating into company profits and incomes of workers.

To survive, garment workers are asking for pay increases. In 2006 garment exports brought US$ 3 billion into Sri Lanka.

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Added: September 24, 2007 Source: Agencies
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