Apparel exporters call for more labour reforms

L-R: Chairman, Joint Apparel Association Forum, A Sukumaran, Chairman, SLAEA, Yohan Lawrence, Secretary to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Anura Siriwardena, and Outgoing SLAEA Chairman Rohan Abeykoon

  • Demand 45.5 hour working week
  • Request to move away from minimum wage arrangement

Implementation of labour market reforms to boost productivity will be crucial for apparel industry’s survival over the long term, according to newly appointed chairman of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association, Yohan Lawrence.

“We are all aware of the number of public holidays we have in Sri Lanka, whilst it may not be realistic to look at these being reduced, there are other areas we can address.”

“The 5-day working week is currently on trial and I would ask that we formalize this by giving employers the option, where there is an agreement with the employee, to spread over the 45.5 hours in 5 days without any premium payments.

 I believe this gives greater flexibility to the business and allows employees to have more time with their families.” Lawrence suggested.

He made the comments addressing the Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association recently.

Productivity-based reforms will also be crucial in the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s competitors in countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh and India, adopting a 48 hour week, whilst also operating from a lower cost base and also having duty-free access to the European Union market, with India currently in forward discussions for a duty free trade agreement with the EU.

“We do need to challenge this as the lower number of hours, coupled with a restriction on overtime as set out by our Customer’s Ethical Compliance Codes mean that certain member factories have to limit their working hours to below the legal limits.

This gives our competitors an advantage on a plate,” Lawrence said. He also called for a greater level of flexibility of the fixed weekly holiday within the trade.

“We need to allow companies to maximize the return on their investment by increasing the number of shifts that we can work without premium payments, and giving employees a day-off during the week instead,” he asserted.

Commenting on the upcoming revision to minimum wages, which is anticipated to increase wages by as much as 30%, Lawrence said: “I echo the sentiments of our past chairman in calling for an end to ad hoc revisions of the minimum wage. We need our policy makers to move away from a minimum wage and to start embracing the concept of a salary package that includes not just the basic wage, but at least other productivity components such as production incentives and attendance bonuses.”

“This will help us to develop a pay structure that is based on productivity, enabling us to boost employee’s earnings through better productivity,” he added.

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