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Stabroek News

Abolish the minimum wage
published: Tuesday | January 30, 2007


Devon Dick

The minimum wage is depressing wages in Jamaica. Persons who can pay better are using the National Minimum Wage as an excuse to underpay workers.

Effective yesterday, the National Minimum Wage was increased from $2,800 per 40-hour workweek to $3,200. This deal is again one month late in implementation. This $640 a day is 'lunch money'. This is untenable and therefore it is time to abolish the National Minimum Wage.

The idea behind a National Minimum Wage is to protect workers from exploitation but the rate is now so low that it is legalizing poverty.

The Minimum Wage is depressing wages in Jamaica. Persons who can pay better are using the National Minimum Wage as an excuse to underpay workers.

For example a former President of JHTA stated in the Gleaner's Letter of the Day (17/12/04) that some hotel workers were earning $4,000 per week inclusive of gratuities. What a paltry sum and what a disgrace that gratuities are used to make up a worker's salary package of $4,000 in the number two foreign currency earner for the nation. And these workers have to work six days a week. It is said that some upper class people pay their domestic helpers less than that paid by middle class people.

GUARDS DESERVE MORE

Last week on the radio programme Nationwide, a spokesman for a security guard firm said that the security guards deserve more but he said that 70 per cent of his revenues go to security guard's salary and his clients cannot afford to pay more! The conclusion is that the salary is too high! In other words, the security guard is being asked to provide a subsidy by accepting a lower wage. However, that was part of the economic rationale of slavery. The owners made economic gains based on exploiting the labour of the enslaved. The enslaved subsidised the plantation for the benefit of the Europeans.

Could we ask the lawyer, surgeon, banker or accountant to take a pay cut because the client cannot pay? However, working class people are called upon to do that.

If we believe that we are all brothers and sisters would we be comfortable to pay our siblings and mother the minimum wage?

Instead what the Government should do is to establish a 'liveable wage'. A liveable wage is what it takes an average family of five to survive at the basic level. This wage would be calculated so that the person can take care of basic necessities of life such as food, clothes, water, education, health etc.

This figure should at least enable this wage earner, who is an NHT contributor, to qualify to own a house or be able to rent a house. This wage will consider the importance of the job and recognise that sanitation workers and domestics who care the home and children are very important jobs.

CAN'T SURVIVE ON MINIMUM WAGE

And then no one should employ persons below this liveable wage because it would be wrong to pay someone something that they cannot survive on. The truth is, a family of five cannot survive on the existing minimum wage. What is happening is that some people are supplementing their income through remittances, illegal sources or additional jobs. So then having established the liveable wage, any employer who cannot successfully start a business, paying the liveable, should be able to apply to an Industrial Disputes Tribunal Board and get tax breaks to facilitate the payment of proper wages.

If a company cannot pay the wage then allowance could be made for sweat equity and or an employee shares scheme. In addition, any employee can take the employer before this Board/Court if the employer is paying below the liveable wage. Abolish the minimum wage, establish a liveable wage.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor Boulevard Baptist Church and author of "Rebellion to Riot": the Church in Nation Building"

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