Time for one minimum wage, Prime Minister
An industry spokesman says firms were not expecting the increase in minimum wage rates for guards to be as high as the 33 per cent announced Thursday by the prime minister.

I have seen reports on the prime minister's budget presentation during which he announced increases in the national minimum wage as well as the minimum wage for industrial security guards and a concern rises to the top.

Many people are unaware of how and why Jamaica supposedly came to have two separate minimum wage regulations — one for security guards and one for all other workers on the island. I have often wondered, so I did my checks.

This came about decades ago — around 1997, I am told — when deliberations were made in recognition of the fact that security guards were accepted to have been independent contractors and therefore not privy to certain benefits such as sick leave, vacation leave, etc, that full-time employees would normally receive. It was supposedly with this in mind that a separate minimum wage category was created for these guards — with this wage always being higher than the national minimum wage — to somewhat offset the fact that these guards were not receiving benefits that due to others. It was felt at the time to have been the unique nature of the guarding industry.

Fast-forward to 2023. In light of the September 22, 2022 Supreme Court ruling in the case between Marksman and the National Housing Trust (NHT), along with the intervention of Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, security guards across the island are now to be classified as full-time employees and therefore will rightly receive all benefits which come as a result of such employment — sick leave, vacation leave, maternity leave, overtime, etc.

The cost implication of this reclassification is a significant one, according to Minister Clarke himself when he outlined the additional cost Government would have to pay for this service and, according to the umbrella group representing security companies, is set to be somewhere between 42 per cent to 50 per cent. While the impact of raising security rates by this magnitude is significant, most well-thinking people will agree that the security guards are entitled to such an increase and certainly deserving of same in light of the critical role they play in the fight against crime.

The above said, seeing that the reason for the separate minimum wage for security guards having been created will no longer exist as of April 1 (as they are now to be recognised as full-time employees and no longer to be seen as independent contractors), it also must be time for the Government to do away with the special minimum wage category for these security guards and create one national minimum wage in the country which applies to all Jamaicans, security guards included.

It is foolhardy for the Government, recognising that the cost of this critical service is already set to go up by a massive percentage, to maintain, and then increase, the separate minimum wage for security guards which will then cause further increases to this critical service. While the needs of the guards are no doubt important, the Government must also consider the affordability of this critical service and the impact on crime if businesses and the general consumers of such guard services are simply no longer able to afford utilising same. The impact of an additional 33 per cent increase in this special minimum wage category — on top of the 40 per cent to 50 per cent — that consumers are already faced with (due to the reclassification) will be deadly — no pun intended — and the further increase due to minimum wage adjustments will, I fear, be too much for an industry and its customers to bear.

Do the math: Fewer guards will equate to more crime!

While it is true that the security guards represent a large block of voters and the Government may fear "offending" them by incorporating them as employees into the national minimum wage, what about the bigger picture and the fact that Governments are elected to lead and not to pander?

What makes a guard different from anyone else? And why then don't we have minimum wage categories for a host of other sectors — bartenders, nail aestheticians, gardeners, receptionists, call centre operators, waitresses, etc?

Simply put, if a separate minimum wage for guards were implemented when certain conditions existed, why then would it not be disbanded when those conditions which brought about its introduction have now been changed? Since it seems so logical, one must wonder if this decision was influenced by the recent Don Anderson poll showing the People's National Party (PNP) ahead and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Is the Government in panic mode and now making short-term decisions to benefit themselves at the expense of the country?

While it is great for Minister Clarke to preach about no new taxes, Jamaicans are not stupid. A compounded 80 per cent to 90 per cent increase in guard services, which will now be a reality with this latest increase in the security guard minimum wage added to the cost of reclassification of security guards, will drive up prices of goods and services across the island and cause inflation to soar.

While the goodly minister has the additional revenue being collected from the guard companies (in the form of statutory deductions from their new employees) to offset his increased government guard bill, some of us consumers of such services are not nearly as fortunate.

Is it that the prime minister and Minister Clarke genuinely do not understand, or it is that they simply do not care?

Jeremy Richards is a concerned business owner.

Jeremy Richards

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