By Machela Osagboro
Better trade union representation, properly trained workers and an improvement in government policy are some of the suggestions put forward by economists to lessen the disparity between the rich and the poor within Antigua and Barbuda.
The economists made their s suggestions on an OBSERVER media radio program and they came in light of a report from the Antigua and Barbuda Social Security Board, which showed that 10 – 15 percent of the working population of the country is functionally poor, as most of them make $1,420 per month.
“The social disparity may be a bit graver than what the report shows as it does not include the unemployed,” Grenadian Economist Chester Humphreys opined.
In an attempt to find ways in which countries can move towards improving this issue, former head of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), Dennis Chung suggested that, “a higher level of tertiary enrolment will also aid in the alleviation of the poverty burden. Countries that have tertiary level enrolment, between 60 and 77 percent actually have a GDP per capita of an average of US $50,000 per annum.”
Chung offered another suggestion in that there needs to be better government policy.
“Governments have been driving employment more through debt and trying to subsidize labour and that is what has caused our debt issue and low productivity which is why the minimum wage applies to such a large percentage of people within the Caribbean,” he said.
Humphreys forwarded Chung’s view and said that, “the role of the state attempting to achieve a fairer degree of income distribution cannot be denied and one of the mechanisms for doing so is the increasing the minimum wage”.
Meanwhile, Political Leader of the United Progressive Party, Harold Lovell said that while in office, his administration drafted the “Antigua and Barbuda National Poverty Reduction Strategy for 2011-2015”. He claimed that since then he has seen no other plans directed to address poverty reduction.
“We need to have a clear vision of what it is that we are trying to achieve, whether it is poverty reduction, or peoples’ empowerment and some sort of plan put in place to address the issues of the disparity between the rich and the poor in the country,” said Lovell.
Based on this he Grenadian economist offered a new suggestion to improve the wage-earning potential of workers in the form of better representation from trade unions.
“There is absolutely no reason why the trade unions cannot make an application before the court, maybe through application they to compel the minister to comply with the law.”
HUmphreys added that the trade unions need to step up their mandate of advocacy, since they are the single most consistent equitable force in the society today.
Lovell pointed out that the category of workers who have been operating as functionally poor are security officers, domestic workers, store clerks, gas station attendants, agricultural and sanitation workers. “These are the persons who are feeling the brunt of this absence of the necessary intervention that is required by statute of the government,” he said.