THE EDITOR, Sir:
As the global economic crisis deepens and highly qualified workers become desperate for any and every job, there are increasing calls for a deeper and broader look at the minimum wage as a tool for employee compensation.
The historical concept of protecting poorer workers with a resultant separation of the rich from the uneducated poor has become blurred, as an increasing number of persons with advanced education and training settle for low-wage occupations. There has been a larger per cent decline in middle-income jobs, while job creation increases for lower-wage jobs. In his book on Union Management and the Public, Bakke (1960) suggests that as the phrase "making a living" becomes increasingly inaccurate, it is more appropriate to say that men make money and buys a living.
The implementation of the minimum wage, though paved with good intentions, has created a century of marginalisation which now forces the business to minimise risk posed by a higher minimum wage by only hiring overqualified, overexperienced workers for entry-level jobs that were usually reserved for the uneducated.
The problem is that enacting a minimum wage law doesn't suddenly give all the working poor a decent-paying job. Instead, it forces employers to consider many people to be unemployable because their sudden increase in pay may not be justifiable by their production, experience, or education. The increase in pay due to the minimum wage may even make it economically impossible for the business owner to keep that worker's position anyway.
Instead, the business is forced to minimise the risk posed by a higher minimum wage by only hiring overqualified, overexperienced workers for entry-level jobs that used to be worked by teenagers and college graduates. This creates a vicious cycle of unemployment for young people that can't get the experience they need to begin their professional careers.
With the current minimum wage of J$5,000 set to be reviewed shortly, and the economic crisis causing a massive reduction in the spending power, some employers are faced with a dilemma in getting workers to perform at even their bare minimum. Workers are now more despondent, unhappy and disgruntled. There is a lack of team spirit, a breakdown in interpersonal relationships, and an increase in conflicts and inefficiencies.
The difficulty faced by most employers is the ability to encourage, motivate and provide professional counselling for workers who grow despondent due to financial difficulties. Companies have to find ways of improving staff retention, bearing in mind that they also face increasing financial difficulties. Where employers and employees both meet on such matters, some action have been taken, such as reversing the proportions of health contributions payments; non-payment for over-time; salary cuts or wage freeze, and reduced work hours or workdays.
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