As new minimum wages come into effect in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Minister of Labour, Camillo Gonsalves is warning employers to ensure that workers are paid their due.

He used a press conference on Friday to encourage persons who feel they are being underpaid to lodge complaints with authorities.

“… I am itching to act on this matter. And I am encouraging people who feel they are underpaid under the minimum wage to report their perceived underpayment to the Labour Commissioner so that the Labour Commissioner can act,” he said.

The minimum wages announced on Friday reflect increases of more than 20 per cent in many categories, with some moving up by 27 per cent.

With the new minimum wage, monthly paid security guards must now be paid at least EC$870 per month, up from EC$720, while daily paid security guards’ minimum wage has been increased from EC$30 to EC$36.25.

The minimum wage for sheltered agricultural workers is now EC$40 per day, up from EC$32, while their unsheltered counterparts will now have to be paid at least EC$36, an increase of EC$6.

New minimum wages have been announced also for various workers in several categories, namely domestic works, hotel workers, industrial workers, workers in offices, professionals, shop assistants and some categories of media workers.

Gonsalves, however, warned that the new minimum wage does not mean that all workers would see increases in their salaries.

He said that in SVG, minimum wages tend to rise before the government establishes a minimum wage.

To illustrate, he said that as of Wednesday, the old minimum wage for an agricultural worker was EC$30.

“But I don’t know if you could have gotten an agricultural worker to work for $30, in reality,” Gonsalves said.

He said that sometimes, the new minimum wage is merely a reflection of the reality on the ground.

“So, the formal legislation sometimes takes us a little forward, raises the minimum wage in real times, and sometimes, it just reflects the current reality on the ground.”

He said that once that new reality on the ground is set, very often, workers start to renegotiate the value of their wage.

“I say that to emphasise because I don’t want anyone to hear me say at the beginning, well if you notice, minimum wages have gone up 20 per cent and then you walk into your job tomorrow and tell your boss that you heard the Minister of Labour say that they got a 20 per cent raise. That’s not the reality. The reality is that most people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are earning above the minimum wage. And this legislation comes in line with existing realities.”

Gonsalves made it clear that there are civil and criminal penalties for not paying people the minimum wage.

He spoke specifically of cashiers working in retail establishments in Kingstown.

“I want to tell you your rights. Cashiers, the minimum you can be paid is EC$800 a month; sales clerks, the minimum you can be paid is EC$700; check out attendants, officer attendants, packers, cleaner, the minimum you can be paid if EC$600 a month,” he said.

“It’s not a lot of money but I know that there are people in stores in this town who are being paid less than that. Who are being paid less than the minimum wage before we raise the minimum wage.”

Gonsalves said persons have complained to him as Minister of Labour, but very often the persons get cold feet when the government wants prosecute these employers. Sometimes, employers also compensate their employees when the government moves to act against them.

The wages council was mindful not to set wages in such a way that they force businesses to reduce staff.

“Makes no sense to increase your minimum wage so high that fewer people get money, that the employer says, ‘Well, if I have to pay this minimum wage, I am going to have to let go three or four or 10 people’,” Gonsalves said.

In addition to this year, the Unity Labour Party administration, which came to office in 2001, revised minimum wages in 2003 and 2008.