MEXICO CITY Honduras’ textile workers have welcomed a new five-year wage pact calling for a nearly 40 percent salary hike and a sharp boost in labor benefits, trade union officials said.

Their comments came as industry leaders said the troubled Central American nation — home to the greatest number of people making up the migrant caravan moving toward the U.S. — could potentially draw $300 million in new apparel manufacturing investments next year.

Workers had asked for a 37 percent wage increase in 2019, but instead got an 8 percent raise. The agreement ironed out by unions, multi-industry trade lobby Honduran Maquila Association and embattled President Juan Orlando Hernández also sets a 7.5 percentage average annual wage jump from 2020 to 2023.

“We did not get what we asked for, but there were several changes that made us agree,” Fredys Carrasco, who heads the labor syndicate at Honduran textiles maker Tegra, told WWD. “The agreement is more ambitious than what we had the past four years.”

The accord envisages higher overtime pay, improved home ownership and food subsidies as well as better health care.

As part of the deal, some workers will earn up to 8,500 lempiras, or $348 at current exchange, monthly compared to 7,085 lempiras, or $293, thanks to new extra pay for those logging in more than seven-day schedules, Carrasco said. He added that some operators could see pay increase as much as 15 percent, depending on employers’ existing collective wage agreements.

The government also agreed to provide 1,000 new home-purchasing discounts to apparel workers, which typically pay 5 percent of their new home, making ownership more affordable. Basic food costs could also decline by up to 12 percent after the government agreed to offer subsidized food markets near factories, according to Carrasco.

“Some of the things we have asked for in the past, such as better childcare centers and worker training, were granted in this agreement,” Carrasco continued.

A new committee to improve ergonomics, or worker postures, to avoid injuries was also introduced, he said, amid measures to reduce female and overall worker harassment.

The government crucially pledged to improve social security coverage, including higher availability of medicines and lower waits for healthcare specialists and surgeries.

Meanwhile, industry leaders said a recent apparel conference in San Pedro Sula drew a positive response from 130 clothing makers, with some of them committing up to $300 million for new factories next year, Jesus Canahuati, owner of sportswear maker Elcatex, reportedly said.

If true, the new investments would bolster commitments to help the apparel sector meet Honduras’ 2020 development plan to $1.3 billion from the $1 billion collected this year.

Carrasco hopes the pledges will lift static employment, which has hovered at around 160,000 since last year.
“I did hear about new investments but that discourse has been repeated for the past five years and nothing has come. We will have to wait and see,” he concluded.