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By Unity Labour Party

The issue

From March 1, 2024, minimum wages across employment units in SVG were increased significantly; the increases for employees in early childhood and elderly-care facilities take effect on May 1, 2024.  These increases are the fourth sine the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was elected to government in March 2001.

Basically, the increases in the minimum wages set the daily wage at at least EC$50 and the monthly wage at no less than EC$1,000.  Among the major beneficiaries are domestic (household) workers, employees in the distributive trades (retail and wholesale), watchmen/watchwomen and security guards, cooks and other employees in restaurants and hotels, secretaries and office attendants, and agricultural workers.

Benefits relating to working hours, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, holidays, and overtime have improved, markedly, at the minimum.

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Here and there some employers have laid off one or two workers on account of these increases, but they are getting jobs elsewhere; here and there, some employers have resisted the payment of the new minimum wages; and a few employers have actually failed and/or refused to pay the increases.  Several workers have complained to the Labour Department and to their parliamentary representatives and Ministers of government.  The Prime Minister himself has received complaints from workers and he has addressed them promptly and successfully.

Workers are strongly advised to take all reasonable and lawful steps to ensure that they receive their due increases.

It would be helpful, too, if the trade unions and civic-minded groups join in the insistence for the payment of at least the minimum wages, in accordance with law.  Do not leave it to the government alone.

Fundamental precept of fairness/justice

One of the limbs of the Preamble in the Constitution of SVG emphasises the fundamental precept of “just economic rewards for labour”.  To be sure, market forces determine substantially the price of labour; but it must be fairly recognised that this “reward for labour” is usually below the extent of the value of that labour to the employer. Of course, the employer, in order to stay in business, has to make a profitable return on the investment that he puts into the business.  Unfortunately, too many employers consider their capital investment, and attendant risks, as solely their considerations.  The wise, and truly successful, employers know that without their productive labour force, their capital investments would come to naught. Thus, the wise employers ensure that their workers are fairly remunerated, properly trained, and cared for.  Invariably, such employer pays above the minimum wage.  The bad, unfair, and greedy employers fight down the minimum wage and treat their workers horribly and exploitatively.

As a Labour government, the ULP insists on fairness, justice, and caring for employees.  At the same time, the workers ought always to perform their job optimally, honestly, and with regard for their employers.  Still, it must be recognised that in the capitalist system, labour is inherently unequal to capital.  Thus, the State, through the elected Labour government, is required to set certain minimum levels of earnings and conditions of work consistent with fairness and justice in all the circumstances.

Domestic workers

For umpteen of years, indeed from time immemorial, domestic workers in SVG, and elsewhere, have often been doubly exploited: Low wages below a livable wage; and as women — domestic workers are mainly women — including through patriarchal violence. The new minimum wage regulations address the following centrally: Raising minimum wages from EC $600 per month to $1200 for a 6-day week of 44 hours; reducing the hours worked per day from 10-to-12 hours (depending on whether you live in or not) to a flat 8 hours, including one hour for lunch; increasing maternity leave from 6 weeks to 10 weeks, minimum; and providing for paternity leave.

Householders who hire domestic workers now have the option, for example, of hiring someone for 3 days and pay $600; this would free up the domestic worker to do other work on the other days.  Under the new regime, householders and domestic worker can make arrangements for flexible working hours on a daily basis; and so forth.

There have been some complaints from some householders, including some public servants, about the new regime for domestic workers.  However, they are reasonable people and must realise that the old regime was unfair to the worker in many respects.

This new regime for domestic workers is in fulfillment to a pledge made by Comrade Ralph two years ago in his Independence Day speech.  This is a practical blow for the further empowerment of working-class women.  And the struggle continues.

Workers in the retail sector

Among exploited women have been many female workers in the retail trade (they are mainly women) in Middle Street and elsewhere.  The new minimum wage regulations improve markedly the terms of employment of these female workers.  Most employers have complied but some have been recalcitrant.  They maintain this recalcitrance at their own peril; the State is not powerless to respond appropriately in defence of these workers.

Unbelievably, some professionals (including some doctors and lawyers) have had to be pulled kicking and screaming to comply with the new regulations.  The Labour Department is on their cases.

Agricultural workers

The farming sector in a huge number of cases has been already paying EC$50 per day for agricultural workers.  Thus, this new minimum wage will push up in practice, the daily wage above $50, given the dynamics of the labour market in the agricultural sector.

Summation

The ULP has again shown that it is, and always will be, a labour government.  Meanwhile, the opposition NDP has been talking out of two sides of its mouth: Claiming that the increase is not big enough and at the same time blaming the increase for the few persons whom employers have laid off.  The NDP actually has no authority to speak on this subject: In its almost 17 years in government (July 1984 to March 2001) it increased minimum wages only once and by a puny amount!

As the people have been saying across SVG: “Always ULP for SVG”!

Let us celebrate and thank the working people for their tremendous contribution to the development of SVG.  They deserve their increases in the minimum wages!

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