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Workers, employers argue over size of minimum wage increase

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com
Friday, July 06, 2012

THE National Minimum Wage Advisory Commission ended its public consultations at the Ministry of Labour in Kingston yesterday with indications of an increase in the region of 10 per cent.

But this would be a disappointment for household helpers who are seeking a 22.5 per cent increase to $5,000 for a 40-hour week, as well as industrial security companies that are firm that any increase over the $166.38 per hour being paid to security guards will cripple the industry.

However, while the employers' focus was on the threat to their viability from an increase, workers' representatives were more occupied with the cost to the working poor of meeting their basic needs and the projections of 10-12 per cent inflation this year.

The Household Helpers Association submitted that increases in the cost of living, and the overall socio-economic conditions, have increased the vulnerability of its members to all forms of discrimination, and proposed an increase to $5,500 per week.

But president of the Union of Schools, Agricultural and Allied Workers Keith Comrie said that a basket of basic food items proposed by his union suggested that the national minimum wage should be increased to $8,000 per week, and the minimum rate for industrial security guards to $10,500 per week from the current $6,050 per week.

Wayne Hanchard of the Jamaica Security Guards Association noted that although there are 260 registered security companies and 17,000 security guards, there were regular advertisements for as many as 100 more guards at a time, which suggested the industry was booming.

He proposed a 30 per cent increase in the minimum rate for the security guards, a 50 per cent increase on their allowances and a $6,000 per week national minimum wage.

But George Overton, director of operations at security giant Guardsman Limited and security spokesman for the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, urged the commission to reject any increase at this time, in light of the high cost of security and its effect on businesses.

Brenda Cuthbert, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF), indicated that while the body was willing to support any increase recommended by the commission, they should bear in mind the employment issues, as any increase will affect jobs.

She noted also that the $1-million fine for breaching the figure would impact employers, and that there was a need to look at "the social implications within a fiscal space".

The Sugar Producers Federation (SPF) also made a submission which cautioned that "any significant increase in costs will negatively affect the sugar industry".

The SPF said that with just over 15 per cent of sugar workers earning $1,000 per day this year, which is slated to be increased to $1,060 per day in 2013, any increase above those figures would require upward adjustments to daily rates above the minimum rate, as the companies would have to maintain the differentials.

Commissioner Danny Roberts, who represents the trade unions, noted that despite the defiance of the security companies, they produced no information to support the claim that an increase would make them financially unviable. He also stated that there was no evidence that an increase in the national minimum wage has ever resulted in reduced unemployment.

Commissioner Bernita Locke, representing the JEF, said that her organisation does not endorse payment of wages below the minimum rate. She said, however, that whatever recommendation is made must reflect a level of balance.

Commission Chairman Silvera Castro insisted that the minimum wage must be recognised as a guide to low wages, and whoever could pay more should do so.

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