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Sri Lanka: Labour Movement Calls for LKR20,000 ‘Living Wage’
Just Style
Dilshani Samaraweera

March 31, 2011
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Sri Lankan apparel industry labour rights coalition ALARM is calling for a LKR20,000 (US$ 180.98) monthly ‘living wage’ for local apparel workers.

ALARM, says a ‘People’s Tribunal’, has pointed to the need to significantly increase Sri Lanka’s apparel industry minimum wages to meet the living wage figure.

The group of Sri Lankan non-governmental organisations [NGO] and trade unions, together with the Committee for Asian Women, a women workers NGO based in Bangkok, conducted a ‘People’s Tribunal’ this week. It was a part of a larger programme called the Asian Floor Wage Campaign, to promote a floor wage for garment workers in Asia.

“A panel of 9 judges conducted a tribunal, into the grievances of garment workers in Sri Lanka. After the hearing the judges have recommended a ‘living wage’ as the minimum wage for Sri Lankan apparel workers, because the present minimum wage is totally inadequate to live on,” said Palitha Atukorala, the president of the Progress Union at a press conference in Colombo yesterday (30 March).

The current minimum wage for apparel workers in Sri Lanka is LKR7,900 (US$71.48) per month.

Factories say actual take home wages are much higher.

However, the coalition says the claim of much higher take home wages by factories is made by adding over-time and other incentives, such as the cost of meals and transport, whenever provided. It says workers should earn a living wage from the standard eight hours of work.

“In 2005, we were asking for a living wage of Rs12,504 (US$113.15) based on the cost of living at that time. Presently, according to Census and Statistics Department calculations, a family of 4 need Rs 41,940 (US$ 379.52) to live. So currently we have calculated the living wage at Rs 20,000 per month, per garment worker,” said Ms Chamila Thushari from Da Bindu, a women’s rights organisation.

Among its other recommendations, the People’s Tribunal has asked the government of Sri Lanka promote the concept of a floor wage within the region, to counter manufacturing shifts between Asian countries based on the lowest cost principle.

The Clean Clothes Campaign, which is involved in the Asian Floor Wage campaign, says it puts pressure on international buyers of apparel, to follow ethical codes of conduct when sourcing apparel from countries like Sri Lanka.