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Minimum wage setback

MP urges need for ‘delicate balance’ in arriving at new minimim wage

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 08, 2013    

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THE National Minimum Wage Advisory Commission has set August 30 as the deadline for submissions on a new National Minimum Wage, but there is still doubt as to whether it can complete the work in time for an increase in rates this calendar year.

Members of the public and interested organisations have been invited to submit, in writing, comments, suggestions or proposals for consideration by the commission, as it reviews both the National Minimum Wage and the minimum rates for private security guards.

The commission said that a memorandum should include proposals from interest groups not represented by trade unions (for example household workers), and other interested non-unionised groups. Persons submitting recommendations may be asked to appear before the commission in support of their written recommendations.

But, chairman of the commission, Silvera Castro, said that while the process can be completed in time for a submission to Cabinet this year, the commission was not in a position to state whether there will be an increase before the end of 2013.

"After we complete our work, we will submit our proposals to the Cabinet, and it will be up to the Cabinet to make a final decision," he told the Jamaica Observer.

However, representative of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) on the commission, Danny Roberts, thinks there is ample time for the consultations to be completed, and the minimum rates increased, prior to the end of 2013.

He said that with the consultations scheduled to start in September, they could be completed within weeks and a submission made.

"We will be doing consultations in Portland, Mandeville, St Ann, Montego Bay and Kingston, and we should be able to wrap up that within a matter of weeks," Roberts said.

However, despite Roberts' optimism, there is every likelihood that there will be no increase in minimum rates before next January, as additional consultations will be needed with agencies like the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), which set the economic basis for the final figure.

There has been contemplation that with the extension of the wage freeze in the public sector, the Government may not be very enthusiastic about increasing minimum rates at the moment, as an increase could threaten the employment of days' workers and household helpers.

Employers, primarily those in the private security business, have already suggested that an increase at this time could seriously affect the operations of a number of the firms, which would be forced to increase the cost of their security contracts. It would also affect basic rates paid to workers in several sectors, including the sugar industry.

Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Andrew Wheatley (South Central St Catherine), has suggested that the commission revisit the idea of a "liveable wage", which was raised by the previous administration.

Dr Wheatley told the House of Representatives recently that a "liveable wage" would allow beneficiaries to afford the most basic amenities for themselves and their families.

However, he said that there would be need for a delicate balance between the needs of employees, as it relates to their income, and the employers' capacity to accommodate that income.

"Those are legitimate concerns, and I readily identify with that necessary balancing act," he said.

Castro admitted that there was a need for Government to look at the social benefits offered to persons who earn minimum rates. However, he said that the introduction of a "liveable wage" at this time could create more problems with private businesses.

Roberts, at the same time, said that there was need for a "baseline study" to inform the commission's position on the level that the minimum rates should be.

He said that a preliminary report had been submitted to the commission on the basis for a "liveable wage", and although it had not generated much interest, it has been a useful guideline for the commissioners. The third commissioner is Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) Vice-President, Bernita Locke.

Minister of Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier, told the House of Representatives on June 4, that the commission had been asked to conduct the necessary consultations and make recommendations for change, where possible, in the national minimum rates. However, he gave no timeline.

Kellier also stated that the minimum wage review would form an important part of the Government's social-protection strategy, and was in keeping with the Decent Work Agenda of the International Labour Organisation, to which the Jamaica is a signatory.

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