The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines says it is considering a 20% increase in the minimum wage with a view to ensuring that no worker makes less than EC$50 per day.
The government is also looking to increase the length of paid maternity leave.
The wage review coincides with the Caribbean Society for Human Resource Professionals report last November that found SVG to be the lowest-paying country in the Caribbean, with 73.3% of salaries being below the average market value across the region.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that the government is awaiting the final recommendation of the Wages Council but was expecting some pushback from some employers.
He said he has secured the full support of the cabinet on the issue and that there would be an announcement during the budget next week.
Gonsalves said that the wage review process has taken place over a period of months.
“I want to say, disappointingly, a number of employers have not participated,” the prime minister said on his Wednesday show on NBC Radio.
He noted that a minimum wage is not an indication of how much the government is saying an employee must be paid.
“We’re saying that that is the least that an employer can pay you,” Gonsalves said.
“That is not for an employer to keep you at minimum wage. You can get above minimum wage. What you can’t do is to get below minimum wage.”
Gonsalves said this is the fourth time his Unity Labour Party is increasing minimum wages since coming to office in March 2001, compared to once in 16.5 years under the New Democratic Party.
He said the Wages Council was looking at a broad increase of 20% of the minimum set in 2017, when the last adjustment was made.
“And that for the call centre workers, because they came on afterwards, to do theirs 15%. Because I think they came in 2020 or thereabouts — 2019, 2020,” Gonsalves said.
He said the Wages Council has proposed setting the minimum wage at a level that no worker makes less than EC$50 a day.
“But even when they did the 20%, some were falling below that,” Gonsalves said.
“So, I say but if that is what you’re recommending, let us have something which you think is reasonable, don’t just put 20%. The number is higher than that to carry you to a particular point, you do it,” Gonsalves said.
“So, I think we’re going to see a fairly — a reasonable jump,” Gonsalves said, adding that the government was anticipating that some employers would say the new minimum wages are too high.
Among them, he mentioned retail store owners and people who employ cleaners and domestics.
“But, the truth is this: we have to take a strong line on equity. And we have to make sure that as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, that some of these things be altered,” Gonsalves said.
“… some of the minimums are just too small and even 20% increase after 2017 in many cases, just not enough…”
Gonsalves also said his government also wants to give more time for maternity leave.
“When we came to office, for the ordinary worker — I am not talking about the civil servants — was four weeks. We carried it to eight weeks,” he said.
“But it should be more than eight weeks so that the NIS (National Insurance Services) will pay 65% and the employer will pay 35%?”
The prime minister said an employer would say a woman who wants eight weeks’ maternity leave would have to take four of them without pay.
“So, all you do is get 65% from the NIS, if in fact your employer’s making the NIS payments. I come back to that question,” said Gonsalves, whose government did not pay into the NIS the withdrawals it made from workers’ salaries for about a year between 2013 and 2014.