Sri Lanka's garment industry says it cannot accommodate trade union requests for another mandatory salary increase.


Last week some trade unions petitioned the government for a wage increase to bring private sector salaries on par with the public sector to compensate for the increasing cost of living.


The trade unions want the statutory minimum wage in the private sector to be increased to LKR11,730 per month (US$117.30), from less than LKR5,000 at the moment.


Trade unions say it is unfair that people working in the private sector get lower minimum wages than government workers, as both are equally affected by inflation.


But the entirely private sector-based garment trade that is also Sri Lanka's biggest employer in manufacturing says such a salary increase will out price Sri Lanka from international garment markets. 


"The industry is experiencing severe difficulties following the abolition of garment quotas and the loss of business to China and other more competitive suppliers in the region. 


"This is mainly due to our high cost of production at a time when selling prices continue to decline," said a statement from the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the industry representative body.


The JAAF says garment worker's salaries in Sri Lanka are better than those of competitor countries like Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.


However, the government slapped a mandatory wage increase of LKR1,000 on the private sector last year and the garment industry had to accommodate the increase from January this year.


By Dilshani Samaraweera.