Ja debates minimum wage

After two months of talks with employers, labour advocates and state officials, the Jamaican Cabinet will pronounce on the economic fate of a quarter of the employed labour force by setting a new floor for wages.

On Monday, the Labour Minister, Derrick Kellier planned to enter the administration’s second Cabinet meeting for 2007 armed with recommendations on adjustments to the National Minimum Wage for its signing off, before seeking approval from Parliament.

The National Minimum Wage Advisory Commission, the organisation charged with sampling views and taking proposal from representatives of workers and employers alike, advised the minister, at the start of the new year, on a suitable pay raise to the lowest income quartile.

Although not disclosed, the figure is expected to be set at a middle ground to accommodate the slate of proposals put forward by unions and employers during consultations with the NMWAC in November and December last year, ranging from as low as six per cent to 33 per cent.

“Inflation is now down – single digit,” said Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd, the executive director of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation. Her organisation is pushing for an increase between six and eight per cent.

“You ought to take a number of things into consideration, as well as most of the public sector increases for salaries are around seven per cent,” she added.

But trade unionists, such as Vincent Morrison, the president of National Workers Union believes the benchmark, currently set at $2,800 after being increased by $400 last January, has to be adjusted upwards to a “livable level” before it can be indexed to inflation.

“The main issue has to do with whether the current minimum wage is at a livable level,” Morrison told Sunday Business in an interview Friday. “The increase that we are proposing – up 33-1/3 per cent to $3,730 a week – would take the people at the lowest income level above the poverty line.”

Currently, about a quarter of the 1.2 million employed Jamaicans earn minimum wage, but included in that number are industrial security guards, who saw their wages move up from $3,600 to just over $4,000 for a 40-hour work week last January.

While NWU’s stance might be considered aggressive to some, due to the potential cost-push inflationary impact of increasing the income of the base of the economy by as much as a third, the Jamaica Household Workers have tempered their demands to account for low salary increases among the higher income earners.

According to Shirley Pryce, president of the JHWA, her members had recommended a 14.28 per cent increase or $400.

“Normally, I always think about household helpers alone, but this time I am thinking about employers too,” she told The Gleaner two weeks ago. “I have to think both ways, because they are not getting any increase for them to pay a big sum.”