More focus needed on minimum wage
Barbados has been struggling for some time to ratify certain labour conventions and ensure a minimum wage and employment particulars for some categories of workers.
The current minimum wage is $6.25 an hour, but does not apply to all categories of workers.
The Barbados Workers Union (BWU) has called on successive governments to set a national minimum wage that would include some categories of workers, including gas station attendants, domestic workers and others considered “most vulnerable”.
The Convention For Domestic Workers was passed about four years ago at the International Labour Organization (ILO). However, despite repeated calls, and verbal commitment from the Ministry of Labour, Barbados is yet to ratify the convention.
Earlier this month, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore attended the 104th ILO conference in Geneva, Switzerland where the matter was once again discussed.
On her return Moore told Barbados TODAY she believed the island had a lot more work to do before ratifying the convention.
She explained that during the two-week conference a number of areas were discussed among the 186 ILO member-states, with the focus on key areas, including social protection and a need for enhancing labour protection within each territory.
She noted the ILO was particularly concerned about a number of deficiencies among its constituents when it came to the protection of workers, especially where the workforce was largely informal.
“There is that need for more attention to be given to things like minimum wage; ensuring that wages are set at a level that makes sense to the average citizen in each country,” she said.
“There was also a discussion towards a recommendation on how to transition workers from the informal to the formal economy because it was recognized that as it stands, especially with the fragmentations of so many companies, a number of small and informal employment relationships are emerging that really need to be formalized to the extent that workers have social protection, that workers can maintain adequate occupational safety and health standards, that employers are not allowed to take advantage of workers,” explained Moore.
Pointing to the convention that came out of the 2011 ILO meeting on decent work for domestic workers, Moore said that category of employee still remained one of the examples of a working category that was “highly informalized”.
“When we say informalized we mean there is no openness regarding the taxes that they pay, how they get certain coverage,” she said.
“We still have situations where migrant domestic workers will come, even to Barbados, and have their passports withheld from them in exchange for the services that they are expected to offer sometimes at prices not within market levels and so on,” she noted.
Moore said the ILO delegates discussed how different governments were complying with the standards, conventions and recommendations that had been set.
“I think that Barbados this year has been challenged in that regard because the ILO found that we have not been reporting as faithfully as we should,” admitted Moore.
“I cannot speak for the last two or three years that the BWU has been absent from the scene, but certainly I am aware that when the Barbados Workers Union was attending, reports and information may have been more forthcoming because our research department would be dedicated to filling out the questionnaires and satisfying the requirements of the reports from a worker’s perspective wherever that need emerges,” she clarified.
Another aspect of the discussions in Geneva, said Moore, was regarding the small and medium sized enterprise sector (SME), in terms of how the tripartite system – government, workers and employers – could better work together to ensure the sector was getting the necessary financial support it needed to survive.
They also spoke about the need for countries to ensure that both employers and workers within the SME sector gain “any necessary benefits” .
“So all in all I think that the conclusions out of the conference were successful, but what is more important now is making sure that governments, on their return to their respective territories, seek to implement what was established.
“It is all well to sit and have these lofty discussions, but what is more important is making sure that they reach the average person on the ground, which is not only a union member, but the average citizen,” said Moore.
Pointing specifically to Barbados, Moore said while developments had been taking place, they had been very slow in coming.
“As it relates to the gas station attendants for instance, what we have discovered is when we make attempts to have meaningful exchanges [and] organize workers within that sector there is a response that shifts them from one location to the next. So it makes organizing that group of workers all the more challenging,” reported Moore.
“What we have been seeking therefore at the national level to do, through our resolutions and through different levels of advocacy and some planned campaigns we have on stream, is addressing the needs more generally where we cannot specifically have workers themselves come together and commit to forming a division,” she explained.
She said as it related to domestic workers the union has enlisted the help of a radio personality who was instrumental in helping the labour union to maintain contact with a number of the domestic workers.
“But what is observed is a reluctance of these workers to come forward and be identified with organized labour to the extent that there is still a sense of fear that that response by them may compromise their situation as it relates to their employer. So we recognized that we are taking baby steps, not only at the national level but the Barbados Workers Union and other unions throughout the Caribbean are working very closely with our ILO office,” she said.
Moore disclosed that a project was recently launched to advance decent work for domestic workers.
“The hope is that when that takes off through the combined regional effort that we may be able to make more inroads into our objective of bringing those workers, who we see as very critical to the economic development of Barbados, out of the shadows as we term it,” she said.