By Kadeem Joseph
A union official is welcoming word that the National Minimum Wage Advisory Committee has not only been constituted but is expected to have its first meeting this Friday after years of calling for the living wage to be reviewed.
Labour Minister Steadroy Benjamin confirmed to Observer on Friday that the committee is now in place to examine the pros and cons associated with a possible increase to the rate.
It comes after mounting calls for the government to reassess what is considered a living wage in Antigua and Barbuda, with the current rate of $8.20 per hour serving as the standard since 2015.
Speaking to Observer Media on Sunday, Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) Chester Hughes said the long-awaited move is welcomed news.
“A lot has changed since 2015. We have seen clear increases in the cost of living and Social Security, and it is only fair to the people that are earning on the lower end of the pay spectrum that the committee at least meet and assess, in a meaningful way, whether these people can actually survive on what they are being paid now,” Hughes said.
He claimed the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party administration has been treating the issue of periodical reviews of the minimum wage like a “stepchild” with no meetings of an advisory committee since 2014.
“The committee should meet every two years based on law and they have not been doing it, so this review is more than overdue for Antigua and Barbuda,” Hughes added.
In January, General Secretary of the ABWU, David Massiah, said the union had written to Benjamin on two occasions urging the speedy formation of the committee, adding that he was concerned that the real wage for vulnerable employees – particularly those in the security, retail, domestic, and other sectors – had diminished substantially due to soaring prices of goods coupled with an increase in Social Security contributions.
On Friday, the United Progressive Party released a press statement taking credit for Benjamin’s move to formulate the committee noting that the party’s Political Leader Harold Lovell had been calling for the minimum wage review, with the objective of increasing earnings to a “national living wage”.
Lovell contends that the $8.20 an hour rate is “simply not acceptable in 2022”.
The UPP has promised that it will embark on a long-overdue assessment and, along with employer organisations and unions, arrive at a fair and viable “living wage” should the party win at the polls in the next general elections.
Meanwhile, founding member of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Anthony Stewart is calling on the government to consider moving the minimum wage to $10 per hour.
He is, however, suggesting the increase be installed via a sliding scale, which could mean a minimum wage increase to $9 in 2022, another increase of 50 cents in 2023, until it is finally increased to $10 in 2024 to account for the economic hardships brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Stuart also believes increases in the required Social Security contributions for workers signal a need for people earning minimum wage to get an increase in their salaries as well.