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The Next 50 Years - Better protection for minimum wage earners

Published:Friday | December 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Many household helpers receive the minimum wage.- Norman Grindley/chief Photographer
Entrepreneur Conroy Gardiner (standing) makes a point during the launch of the Minimum Wage Advisory Commission's regional consultation on the National Minimum Wage and the minimum wage for security guards in Montego Bay in June. - File
The case of security guards best illustrates the travails of the Jamaican worker since the National Minimum Wage was mooted and enacted into law. - File

Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and grow families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at and join the debate.

OVER THE last 20 years, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) has increased by more than 1,000 per cent.

In 1992, it was $300 for a 40-hour workweek. Modest increases took it to $1,200 in 1999. Another three years were to pass before it moved again, this time by $400. After two paltry $200 increases between 2002 and 2003, nothing else went the workers' way until 2005 when another $400 were added, bringing it to $2,400.

Another $400 topped the rate in 2007 to $3,200, just before the new Jamaica Labour Party administration pushed it up by $500 to finally end with $4,500 in 2011. Finally, in the first six months after its December victory, the People's National Party announced new rates of $5,000 per week and $7,155 for industrial security guards.

Any attempt to construct new policy regarding the NMW in the next 50 years has to begin with an education programme from the Ministry of Labour to sensitise the public and prospective employers of household workers.

The Government must increase its campaign to inform workers of their rights and force employers to register their household workers and avoid them falling through the cracks. Consideration can be given for persons who employ household workers to claim benefits under tax legislation. This will induce employers to pay National Insurance Scheme and National Housing Trust contribution of the workers to the Government, thus making them less likely to be deprived of benefits.

The Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act must see a further amendment of Section 2, which still allows workers to be disguised as contractors. This leads to massive exploitation.

These changes are simple but must come with the boldness of a government which must show that it has not sold out to campaign contributions by the powerful.