The island’s largest trade union is not backing down from its call for a national minimum wage, even as one body representing employers warns against pushing for it at this time.
Although welcoming discussion on the matter, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) said now might not be the right time to implement a minimum wage, given the “severe economic challenges” the island is facing.
Deputy general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Toni Moore-Bascombe, insisted in an interview with Barbados TODAY that some employers continued to “take advantage” of workers by paying them very little, although the cost of living had been rising. The union, she said, would be lobbying Government every chance it got.
The current minimum wage in Barbados is $6.25 an hour, but does not apply to all categories of workers.
“Right now the minimum wage that we have applies to salespersons, and we want a national minimum wage because we recognize that there are categories like security guards and gas station attendants who are taken advantage of, because the minimum wage does not necessarily apply to them,” she said.
“A national minimum wage would mean that whether you are fish, fowl or red herring, the minimum that any company can pay you is what the national is set at. But right now the minimum wage excludes a number of vulnerable categories of workers in Barbados,” she added.
Discussions regarding what the national minimum wage should be have been held with the Tripartite Committee and the Shops Wages Council. Acknowledging that the employers must “have a say as well”, Moore-Bascombe said it was something that all the parties should “fully ventilate and then accept”.
However, all parties are yet to agree to have discussion and consider the matter.
“Every opportunity we get, at the last national consultation, wherever the forum presents itself the union has been pushing for the Government to consider a national minimum wage, because there are too many workers that are being disadvantaged,” said Moore-Bascombe, while acknowledging that some companies were paying staff the current minimum wage although it did not apply to them.
When contacted the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) and the Barbados Private Sector Association opted not to comment on the matter. However, BCCI president Lalu Vaswani told Barbados TODAY he agreed it was important to have dialogue and consultation on the issue in order to arrive at a conclusion. He cautioned, however, that the matter should be approached carefully.
“As a nation that is going though a severe economic crisis, there are many concerns to protect the social fabric of society, but pre-eminent in all these concerns is the ability to sustain existing jobs and to make it possible for those who are currently not employed to be given an early opportunity to be restored to full employment,” he said.
“This is not the time to create discord among persons and between employees and employer. Now is the time rather to promote harmony and to ensure that the goodwill that existed in terms of protecting of jobs, even though sometimes it is not economic to do so, to ensure we don’t rock that boat.
“Dialogue is necessary, but it should be done in the proper forum and not on an ad hoc basis because that will not create the long-term benefits we all seek to derive,” explained Vaswani.
In addition to calling on successive Governments for a national minimum wage to be established, the BWU has been lobbying for the ratification of the Convention For Domestic Workers.
That convention was passed about two years ago at the ILO. Despite the passing of the convention and repeated calls, as well as verbal commitment from the Minister of Labour, Barbados is yet to ratify it.