THE Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) yesterday recommended a nine per cent rise in the national minimum wage, which would increase the current figure by $450.
The PIOJ's recommendation, which came at yesterday's final National Minimum Wage Advisory Commission consultation at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Kingston, is likely to set the stage for an increase of approximately 10 per cent ($500 per week) in the Government-controlled wage.
According to the PIOJ, its submission was based on an analysis of the real movement in the minimum wage over the past four years; the adult equivalent poverty line (or, the sufficiency of the minimum wage to keep an adult out of poverty); and a reference family of five with two minimum wage earners (that is the sufficiency of minimum wage earned by two adults with three dependents to keep them out of poverty).
The Jamaica Employers' Federation, which represents the business sector, submitted that its members have suggested increases ranging from zero to 15 per cent, while the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions urged the Government to increase the wage incrementally, targeting a "living wage" of about $11,500 per week in the near future.
The Jamaica Association of Household Workers argued for a $2,000 per week increase, while the Bureau of Women's Affairs felt that a 20 per cent increase would give weekly paid women a better chance of meeting their expenses.
The usual exchanges between owners of private security firms and persons and institutions representing private security guards, whose minimum rates are also being addressed in these consultations, failed to materialise yesterday. However, the arguments for and against increases in security guards' rates were, as usual, very persuasive.
Wayne Hanchard, of the Jamaica Security Guards Association, a 10-year veteran of the consultations, noted that over the last decade the increases have ranged from $200 per week in 2002, to $500 per week in 2008 and 2012.
He urged the commission to pay more attention to the plight of guards working as many as 60 hours per week without overtime rates, although the Government has recognised a 40-hour work week for them since 1997.
"We can't continue like this as a country," Hanchard suggested, while reiterating the cry for a Joint Industrial Council to protect the rights of both workers and employers in the sector.
But security and safety manager at HEART Trust/NTA Suzanne Scarlett warned that while increases in minimum rates to security guards employed by four companies contracted by the agency on various projects have totalled 20 per cent over the past 19 months, the statutory contribution from employers, which funds the Trust's operations, has remained constant at three per cent.
She said that, in addition, fewer employers were paying their contributions, and the reduced revenues were seriously affecting the agency's projects.
She agreed that some companies were not paying the guards their full remuneration, and have a lot of wastage, but claimed that the increases in the minimum rates have caused many reputable firms to close down because of being unable to compete with unlicensed firms offering cheaper rates.
"We are not too keen on an increase, but if there is going to be an increase, do it incrementally," she suggested to the commission.
The Sugar Producers Federation's Michael Martin also opposed an increase, claiming that it would adversely affect minimum rates in the sugar industry.
Martin noted that sugar workers are guaranteed three days' work per week in the off-season, or three half-day pay if there is no work over the three days, for the eight months out of crop.