By Shermain Bique-Charles
The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee is expected to begin discussions tomorrow leading toward a possible increase in the national minimum wage – and the members will also be considering the minimum for specific categories of workers.
The committee which comprises members from the Employers Federation, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Hotels and Tourism Association, among others, is expected to make recommendations and report back to the Minister of Labour and Legal Affairs, Steadroy Benjamin.
The current minimum wage of EC$8.20 per hour has been in place since 2015.
“Instead of having one national minimum wage across the board, the thought may be given to having different categories of workers, including hoteliers, persons of skills like contractors, masons [etc]. In the past, it was thought it would be most prudent to have one national minimum wage across the board,” Benjamin said.
He said the committee also has the authority to invite accountants and economists and any other people and organisations deemed fit to assist in the process.
“They can invite whoever they believe can help them come up with a realistic national minimum wage. They will look at the conditions of work, cost of living and examine all these factors against the background of the economy,” Benjamin explained.
Despite claims from some that the move to establish the committee is politically motivated, Benjamin insisted that the main reason behind the largely welcomed step is due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a huge spike in the cost of living.
“It is my intention to call the committee together to look at all the factors because the cost of living has increased and inflation is on the rise. Covid-19 would have wreaked havoc in every other Caribbean island as well,” he added.
Benjamin continued that, as the cost of living increases, there should be an appropriate increase in the national minimum wage.
But he said, “This has not been happening.”
He added, “We are concerned that the history in our increases appears to be one minimum wage throughout all facets and sectors and this position cannot continue.”
In 1998 the minimum wage in Antigua and Barbuda went up to $5.75 per hour from its previous $4.60, and in 2002 it was raised to $6 per hour. In 2006 it increased to $6.75 cents and in 2008 to $7.50, before its most recent increase to $8.20 in 2015.