By Devon Dick
On Tuesday, the Government announced a 12 per cent increase in the minimum wage, moving it from $5,000 to $5,600, effective January 6, 2014. Simultaneously, the Government committed itself to helping with short-term relief measures for persons who are at the lower end of the economic scale. These measures are needed and justified.
The last increase of the minimum wage was in September 2012 when it was moved to $5,000. At that time, according to a Gleaner report, South West St Catherine MP Everald Warmington said the minimum wage should be no less than $12,000 per week. He said the 10 per cent increase to security guards and 11 per cent to other minimum wage earners was "ridiculous, impractical and unworkable". However, the usual government line is that a reasonable percentage increase would lead to job losses.
These announcements are like a stuck record with governments being cautious and opposition parties being on the side of persons who are poor. It must be admitted that every announcement of a minimum wage seems to make life more difficult for the persons in the poor groupings. If the premise of a minimum wage is that the wage is established at the basic minimum on which a wage earner's family can exist, then things have been getting worse since the inauguration of the minimum wage in the 1970s. Take, for example, this bold move to increase minimum wage by double digits. This increase of 12 per cent over the last increase in September 2012 does not adequately factor devaluation of that time to January 2014, which will be around 15 per cent. It means that the worker will have a weaker purchasing power, come the January increase. A weaker purchasing power by so many Jamaicans will adversely affect our rate of economic growth, and goods and services offered by businesses will not be bought.
WEAKENED PURCHASING POWER
This weakened purchasing power will also make it difficult for a family of five to make two ends meet if they are to survive on $5,600 a week. It is hard to manage on $800 a day to feed five mouths, pay bus fares, pay utility bills, pay rent, buy clothes, buy medication, etc. Anyone who can do that successfully is a prime candidate to be minister of finance for the country. This wage means that a person may have to find a second job, difficult though that may be, or turn to illegal and/or illicit activities such as drug dealing, prostitution, petty theft, etc., to supplement income. The other options could be to depend on handouts from relatives who send remittances, and from largesse of members of parliament when there are needs for large expenditure on funerals or surgeries.
There is still another source of support for persons who are poor, and that is the Church. The foundational roots of the early Church demonstrated that its members cared for widows, orphans, etc. Furthermore, in my book on the Jamaican Church in nation building I outlined the yeoman work the Church did from 1865 to 1999 in helping the vulnerable in our society.
Pope Francis, Time Magazine's Man of the Year, reshaped the Vatican and refocused on persons in greatest need. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known to eat bread with the homeless, sit with them on the street as part of his aim to share the plight of the poor and let them know someone cared. He was a street pastor.
We need to support the Salvation Army and other such groups which work to alleviate suffering among the less fortunate. Churches need to continue hosting health fairs and clinics. Flea markets are another opportunity to minister in the name of Jesus. We need to give gifts to persons who cannot return the favour.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.