Business Times

Clothes manufacturers hunt for workers

By Sunimalee Dias

Sri Lanka’s apparel industry will this year tour the country in search of new workers and spruce up its image as the lucrative business it once was. The image campaign will be carried out to enhance the industry and mobilize recruitment as it is believed there is a need to bring the message to the masses that ‘we are’ the premier employer in the country, Apparel Exporters Association Chairman Rohan Abayakoon told the Business Times.

The apparel sector is projected to grow by 10% this year while revenue is slated to be around US$3.6 billion compared to the previous year’s figure of US$3.2 – 3.3 billion. The campaign is set to kick off during the first week of May starting from Puttalam for over the next 9-12 months, he said, adding that in this regard they would be moving to all parts of the country.

The perception among the people that the industry is not stable due to the absence of the GSP + concessions needs to be changed, he said. “We want to say we are here for the long haul,” Mr. Abayakoon noted adding that this will bring back “relevance and awareness” to the industry.

Currently the industry requires about 10-15, 000 workers to support its expansion plans for the North and East under the development programmes initiated by the government. The industry chief noted that the lack of the GSP + had no immediate tangible detrimental effect on the industry but if Sri Lanka had GSP + it would have allowed for faster growth of the sector.

“The opportunity given to us to rapidly grow has got stifled,” due to the lack of GSP +. Commenting on the January figures that indicated a significant rise of 120% increase over the past year in the apparel industry, he said that in spite of this the margins have not increased. Cutting and making costs have increased by around 10% and the pice increase in the cost of production by 7-10% over the last 12 months contributes to only a marginal increase.

Cotton prices, was noted to have gone up by 200% in the last 18 months causing a significant increase in pricing. Apparel trade data for January indicated that apparel of knitted fabric increased to US$197.7 million while apparel of woven fabric rose to US$169.8 million while other made-up textile articles had doubled to US$4 million.

Total exports to the US accounted for US$134.8 million with a 95.6% increase over the same month last year and to the EU exports topped US$195.2 million, up by 129.6%. In this respect, he pointed out, “I don’t think an increase in turnover reflects a significant growth.”

On the other hand, had concessions been in place still this could have been significantly higher and growth would have been tangibly higher, he noted. Mr. Abayakoon noted interest in the April figures stating as this is a slower month and further with Bangladesh capacity now maximized with spillover business from Sri Lanka gone there. In addition, instability in prices is increasing in China and the Sri Lankan industries are reliable and stable, and in this respect, the industry is looking forward to the figures from this month.

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