Minimum wage ‘breach’

Thousands of Barbadians have weekly earnings below the national minimum wage.

This is based on Continuous Household Labour Force Survey information from the Barbados Statistical Service (BSS).

Effective April 1, 2021, a national minimum wage of $8.50 an hour, which is equivalent to $340 a week, became law.

However, the 2023 Annual Statistical Bulletin published by the BSS shared that at the end of last year there were 2 900 people earning under $200 a week, up from 2 800 in 2022. The majority of the 123 600 people employed – 45 800 – earned between $200 and $499 a week in 2023.

General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union and Government backbencher submitted recently during parliamentary debate on the Labour Clauses (Concessions) Bill that this remained insufficient, especially in the context of higher inflation.

Speaking subsequently during her delivery of the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mia Amor Mottley said the national minimum wage would be reviewed, including to give consideration to any increase in inflation.

The BSS report indicated that when people surveyed were asked to state their earnings during the last week, 1 500 men said they pay packet was below $200 and 1 400 women said the same.

The report also examined weekly pay on the basis of under-employment, which the BSS explained “refers to those persons whose actual hours worked were less than the normal 40 hours per week during the reference period”. It also said that these were individuals who “were seeking and were available for more work”.

Of the 5 400 people in the under-employed category, 1 200 earned $200 a week. The most – 3 000 – had weekly pay of between $200 and $499 a week.

Moore told the debate in Parliament that while the $340 a week minimum wage was an important first step, this $8.50 an hour “was not good enough”.

“It saddens me that three years on, April 1st would be three years that the minimum wage board has not met once to correct that minimum, and bring that minimum closer to a point where we could feel proud that the thunderous applause we gave when that was passed, is something that we would continue to make good on,” she said.

“The minimum wage has to be fixed. It was not good enough at $8.50 back in 2021, but it was recognised as a start. In 2024, the signal comes that if the minimum wage board can’t meet for whatever reason, dismantle that and get a fresh minimum wage board that will deliver for the workers of this country.”

The Prime Minister said the Government had implemented a national minimum wage during the pandemic when “many people told us we couldn’t do it and we shouldn’t do it, and we said, no, they are people who we see, feel and hear, who need this protection”.

She said three years after its introduction “the Minimum Wage Board, therefore, will be required to review the rate which currently stands at $8.50 per hour, and then of course, $9.25 per hour for security officers”.

“Given the rise in inflation, there is no doubt that there will be some adjustment.

“However, in order to protect those persons at the bottom of the pay scale, I am proposing that going forward we will index the minimum wage, thereby making provision for an annual increase in accordance with inflation, but with a full review every five years to be done to ensure whether the adjustment needs to be more than inflation,” Mottley said.

Outside of those earning less than $500 a week, the BSS bulletin said 44 300 workers earning between $500 and $999 a week last year, while 8 800 individuals earning between $1 000 and $1 300 a week, and 9 500 earned more than $1 300 a week.

The numbers in all of the categories are likely to be higher as the BSS report said that 12 300 of the people surveyed did not state their weekly earnings.

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