News

New minimum rates effective tomorrow

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) has said that the implementation of new minimum rates will go ahead as planned tomorrow, despite objections raised by private security firms.

This means that as of tomorrow, National Minimum Wage earners will start earning $5,600 per 40-hour work-week, or $140 per hour. This is a 12 per cent increase over the previous minimum wage of $5,000 per week, or $125 per hour.

The minimum rates for security guards employed to private security firms will also be increased by 12 per cent. They will be paid $8,198.80 per 40-hour work week, or approximately $204.97 per hour, up from $7,320.40 and $183.01, respectively.

Additionally, the security guards will receive increases in some fringe benefits, including their laundry allowance, which will go up to $37.30 per hour from $33 per hour, and firearm premium allowance of $41 per hour, up from $36.60 per hour.

New rates for the security guards are normally introduced simultaneously with increases in the minimum wage, and are set by the same body, the National Minimum Wage Advisory Commission (NMWAC). The Commission holds consultations in both cities and the major towns, prior to advising the minister on the level of increases which is eventually, approved by the Cabinet and gazetted.

Ironically, while the normal complaint from the employers is that the increases are too high and endanger their survival, this time the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS), which represents them, seems quite willing to work with the 12 per cent increase, in light of the cost of living hike, but said that they need at least a month for implementation.

The Jamaica Observer was unable to contact Minister of Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier on Friday, but Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Alvin McIntosh, said that the increases would be implemented tomorrow.

He admitted that the ministry had received a correspondence from the JSIS seeking to delay the implementation, but was unable to say whether or not the minister had responded. The JSIS said it received no response.

JSIS President Commander George Overton, told the Sunday Observer recently that delaying implementation of the security guards' rates by approximately one month would allow its membership, said to be approximately 80 per cent of the industry, time to access funding needed to implement them.

He pointed out that the employers were being given only 11 days, after the announcement in the House of Representatives by Kellier, to implement the rates, which he described as "totally inadequate" and endangering the survival of some firms.

"We are going to find that there are a number of companies who are either not going to be able to be compliant for a couple of weeks, until they can conclude the arrangements with their clients, and there are those who are going to have to dip into their pockets and carry the differential until they are able to conclude the discussions," Overton said.

But trade union representative on the NMWAC, Danny Roberts, said that this was only "another wolf cry" from the employers.

"They always have a complaint. In the past it was the size of the increase, this time it is timing. I think that the ministry has given them enough time to introduce the new rates," he said.

McIntosh agreed: "We think that enough time has been given (to the employers) to implement the increases, and if there is to be any variation it would have to go back to the Cabinet to make that decision."

He also pointed out that any security company which fails to implement the increases tomorrow, would be in breach of the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act, which carries penalties for failure to comply.

The Minimum Wage Act provides that:

"Where any minimum wage has been fixed by the minister under this Act, an employer shall in cases to which the minimum wage is applicable, pay wages to the person employed at not less than the minimum wage and, if he fails to do so, shall be liable on summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate in respect of each offence a penalty not exceeding $100,000."

The Act also points out that, on conviction of an employer under the provisions, the court may, by the conviction, adjudge the employer to pay, in addition to any penalty, such sum as appears to the court to be due to the person employed on account of wages, calculated on the basis of the minimum wage: "Provided that the power to order the payment of wages under this subsection, shall not be in derogation of any right of the person employed to recover wages by any other proceedings".

McIntosh said that a compromise could involve the companies reaching an agreement with the workers to pay the rates, retroactively. But, under the Act, an employee could take the boss to court for failing to pay the new rate on the date ordered and gazetted by the minister.

The issue could evolve into a "hot potato" for both the ministry and the security companies, and the trade unions say that they are watching the developments, with particular interest.

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