Living on the edge
In this period of economic turbulence Barbados continues to experience, many workers and working class people are living on the edge.
Persons who fall into the group of the most vulnerable, particularly those who are employed as part time, casual or temporary workers, and receive the legal minimum hourly pay of Bds$6.25 (US$ 3.12), must be the ones who are feeling the most hardship.
Under the Shops Act, the law stipulates that the current minimum wage applies to household domestics and shop assistants.
It is here that the greatest concern emerges, as it would seem that some employers use the legislative minimum wage as a guide to pay workers in various sectors, who are employed in low paid positions, such as ancillary workers or support staff.
The question remains, is this right or wrong? Arguably it may boil down to the employer’s ability to pay a higher wage, but at the end of the day, is there a case to be answered for exploitation, if in fact that this is the case.
The payment of a minimum wage is universally accepted. However, the application of it has to be taken into context, as it is unwise to apply it nationally and to all sectors of work.
For the purpose of clarity as to what constitutes a minimum wage, reference is made to the definition provided by the International Labour Organisation. The ILO defines the minimum wage as “the minimum sum payable to a worker for work performed or a service rendered, within a given period, whether calculated on the basis of time or output, which may not be reduced either by the individual or collective agreement, which is guaranteed by law and which may be fixed in such a way as to cover the minimum needs of the worker and his or her family, in the light of national and economic conditions”.
While this makes for interesting reading and study, the stark reality is that many within the region and across the hemisphere are subject to living on the edge, regardless to whether there is a downturn in the economy or not.
Naturally, life becomes more precarious for such vulnerable persons, who are the targeted victims of retrenchment programmes, when the employer is forced to make fiscal adjustments in order to safeguard the survival of a business in difficult times.
A look at the minimum wages paid in a few selected Caribbean countries, as compared with Canada and the United States of America, shows a vast contrast.
This is to be expected. Take for example, in Trinidad & Tobago the hourly rate is TT$12.50, in Barbados it is Bds$6.25, in Antigua it is EC$7.25 and in the Bahamas it is US$4.00. The rates in Canada the range is between CAN$9.95 and CAN$11.00 while in the US it is between US$7.25 and $10.10 per hour.
With the spiralling cost of living, those who are paid the minimum hourly rate will always feel the pinch of the shoe. What makes it worse is the fact that some employees do not have the benefit of working for a full 40 hour week.
Here is where it gets unreasonable, as these people, like all other citizens, are called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the country.
Does it not make more sense to keep these people employed rather to put added pressure on the social systems of the state?
The magnitude of the problem thrown up by the minimum wage is reflected in data drawn from Wikipedia on minimum wages in the United States. It reported that in 2013, 1.5 million workers were earning wages below the minimum wage while a total of 3.3 million workers were earning at or below the minimum wage.
This represented 1.0% of the population, 1.6% of the labour force, 2.5% of all workers and 4.3% of hourly paid workers.
If this presents as a problem for a developed society and economy, one could well image the devastating impact this could have on small island developing states.
DENNIS DE PEIZA
Labour Management Consultant
Regional Management Services Inc.
Visit our Website: www.regionalmanagement services.com
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