SINGAPORE — One afternoon last September, about 1,000 textile workers marched through Myanmar's commercial capital of Yangon, demanding higher wages. It was an unprecedented show of labor activism in the hitherto authoritarian country, but the striking workers were just one group in a growing number of Southeast Asian industry employees agitating for better pay.
Wage inflation has swept across Southeast Asia. While salaries for garment workers here are still generally lower than those earned by their counterparts in China, a slate of recent legislation has meant double-digit increases in regional minimum wage levels over the past year. These pay raises come as China unveils its own plans to raise its minimum wages by 2015.
In January, Thailand's government hiked the minimum wage in 70 cities across the kingdom by approximately 80 percent to 300 baht, or $10.08 at current exchange, per day. This followed a similar increase in eight more developed districts last year. RELATED STORY: Chinese Industry Weighs Labor Issue >>
Similarly, authorities in Jakarta last month increased basic pay levels by more than 40 percent to 2.2 million rupiah, or $227.11, per month. In September, Cambodia's government implemented a $73 monthly effective minimum wage, up from $50 as recently as 2009.
Salaries are likely to continue rising. According to the Source Association of Southeast Asian Nations Full Service Alliance, an industry group, wages in Vietnam are due for review by its government in March and apparel workers in Laos and Cambodia have begun pressing for an increase in their salaries to $120 per month, a roughly 50 percent jump in both countries.
Many garment factory owners aren't happy with the wage spikes and the haphazard way they say the increases have been carried out. In Jakarta and Thailand, the increases were announced after the electoral victories of populist governments in 2012 and 2011 respectively, leading to grumbles that they were politically motivated.
"This year is already hard because of the crisis in Europe and wages are another [problem]," said Luv R. Mahtani, director of Bali Nirwana Garments, a 1,500-man factory just outside Jakarta. "The government allows us to apply for a waiver if we're labor intensive but it's a long process and [the waiver is] only for 6 months or a year, so what's the point?"
"Some factories are still fighting to stay alive but I'm sure there will be some that will be closing down in the second half of this year because they cannot bear the wage increase," said Sukij Kongpiyacharn, president of the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association, in a telephone interview. "The Prime Minister has appointed a cabinet member to oversee a remedy but there is not much that they can do to help the [worst] affected."
Some operators with diversified holdings however, welcomed the wage hikes.
"It's a good thing because it's leveled the playing field, so our time can be used to focus on internal efficiencies such as how we process orders and become more sustainable," said Mark Lee, chief executive officer of Sing Lun Holdings, a Singapore-based apparel firm which has invested in factories across Indochina for the last five years. "If we look at improving in other ways, buyers won't move just so that they can save 10 cents on a piece of apparel."
“I think what’s so interesting about the #MeToo movement and this whole new wave of feminism in general, is that women are finally seeing, ’Oh I can start my own company, oh I can lear to code, oh I can leave my nine-to-five job and do the thing I want to do,” said @brooklyndecker ahead of her @sxsw talk for @createcultivate. The former model took the stage to share wisdom about networking and female-driven entrepreneurship. #wwdeye #sxsw (📷: @jgreenery)
“I was making the guacamole when my scout saw me,” says model @stuckinteenage on being discovered just six months ago while working at @chipotlemexicangrill. Since then Williams has signed with @dnamodels, walked in her first show at @calvinklein and landed on the cover of @vogueitalia – a high point of any model’s career. To read @lisajlockwood’s full interview with the model on her experiences thus far, head to WWD.com – link in bio. (📷: George Chinsee)
“I love the idea of dialogue, period. It’s where I’ve always gotten my inspiration from: hearing other women speak, their journeys and their paths,” said @hereisgina, who delivered the keynote speech at the @sxsw conference for @createcultivate, the online platform and conference series for women. For her two panels, Rodriguez chose female empowering, female-led and female entrepreneurs to focus on. Head to WWD.com to read more about her thoughts on Time’s Up, growing up in a family of women and why we “need a girls’ club.” #wwdeye #sxsw (📷: @jgreenery)
Leading luxury brand are shaking things up to keep up with streetwear. Case in point: the arrival of @mrkimjones as artistic director of @diorhomme. Jones, who succeeds @Kris_Van_Assche, is seen as one of the handful of designers who can actually straddle the luxury and streetwear worlds — which could lead to even more changes at established brands. What could this mean for the rest of the menswear landscape? Head to WWD.com to find out what experts predict #wwdfashion (📷: @franckmura)
“It’s like buying groceries. You’re going to buy the best mango, the best mozzarella, the best things. You have to, or others are going to take it all,” said @gabrielahearst on why she uses only the finest fabrics. Last week, Hearst received her first @cfda nomination for Womenswear Designer of the Year, and earlier this month she opened a permanent showroom in Paris. To read @jessiredale’s interview with the designer and find out why this is shaping up to be a big year for her, head to WWD.com. #wwdfashion (📷: @francoisgoize)
“It’s an interesting thing, playing a younger version of your mother. It’s an interesting concept. I adore my mom and love her in every capacity, but it was just something that had never crossed my mind,” says @anniemstarke on playing a young Joan Castleman in “The Wife.” The same role will be played by her mother Glenn Close. Read more about her growing up in the film industry as the daughter of producer John H. Starke and Close and what she has planned for the future #wwdeye (📷: @nataliamantini)
@asics is launching a new streetwear sneaker inspired by its latest ambassador, @steveaoki. The Hyper-Kenzen x Aoki, which will launch at @footlocker stores exclusively tomorrow, is a slip-on style that incorporates the brand’s proprietary Gel technology through beads integrated into the midsole for comfort and endurance. Read the full story on WWD.com.