Stop playing political football with the minimum wage

Editorial

Stop playing political football with the minimum wage

Friday, January 10, 2020

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We have long ceased to be amazed at the things politicians will say to attract votes. Indeed, making promises is part and parcel of politicking, because electorates are drawn to grand designs and the grander the better.

Probably one of the best descriptions of this 'art form' we have ever seen was penned by journalist Mr Alex Boese in an article titled 'A brief history of weird campaign promises'.

“They're like the cloying perfume that politicians use to make themselves smell sweeter to voters,” Mr Boese wrote.

So issues like crime, taxes, job creation, and the size of Government are usually the targets of politicians on the hustings. Older readers will recall that during the campaign for the 1980 General Election then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga promised Jamaicans that he would make “money jingle” in their pockets.

We also recall that before the country went to the polls in 1989 then Opposition Leader Michael Manley promised The University of the West Indies students that a future Government led by him would roll back a cess imposed by the Administration of the day.

Of course, younger Jamaicans will all remember the promise of a review of the buggery law made by Mrs Portia Simpson Miller, as well as her declaration before the 2011 General Election that a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund would be completed and signed within two weeks of her party being returned to office.

Also, the country recalls Mr Andrew Holness's vow that a vote for his party would result in Jamaicans being able to sleep with their windows open.

People must always remember that politicians campaign on promises, but govern in reality.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, we see, has now taken the baton in this medley of political promises. In his new year's message he served notice that his People's National Party will seek an almost 60 per cent increase in the national minimum wage.

The present national minimum wage of $7,000 for a 40-hour workweek, he said, was inadequate, and a major contributor to a 30 per cent growth in urban poverty.

Arguing that the fall in the value of the Jamaican dollar, as well as increases in prices on basic items, coupled with low wages, have kept too many workers poor, Dr Phillips said “the Opposition will be demanding and fighting for the minimum wage to be increased to $12,500”.

In a subsequent interview, Dr Phillips, responding to criticism that his proposal holds the potential to disrupt business, said there is no evidence to support that concern.

Ironically, though, it was Dr Phillips who, four years ago as finance minister, urged caution when the then Opposition spokesman on finance Mr Audley Shaw proposed an increase in the minimum wage to $12,000 weekly.

“We have to be careful,” Dr Phillips said at the time. “An instantaneous movement of the minimum wage...would have the effect immediately of putting many people out of work because their businesses would not be able to sustain their operations were you to just legislate that improvement.”

What, we ask, was the evidence he had at that time to support his position?

That debate, as we remember it, was quite noisy and ill-tempered with the Opposition arguing that the Government could have done much better.

It is unfortunate that legislators have seen it fit to make the national minimum wage a political football.

They would better serve the public by ensuring that movement in the minimum wage is informed by empirical data to include the capacity of businesses to afford an increase, as well as commensurate improvements in productivity and economic growth.


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