Some employers in Barbados are taking advantage of persons in desperate circumstances and paying them wages far below what is reasonable, Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss charged yesterday.
Inniss made the comment in the House of Assembly while piloting a Minimum Wage Bill that repeals the Wages Council Act and provides for the minister to be advised by a nine-member board comprising representatives of Government, workers and employers on minimum wage and conditions of work.
Though the minister indicated his remarks were not targeting any particular sector, he said, “One reality is that some of the domestic workers and shop assistants are not getting the kind of wages that is necessary for them to be able to provide for the basics in life.
“My own experience is that the majority of employers in Barbados are very fair and very reasonable . . . but we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that there are not a few who, if left unchecked, would start to work towards creating the kind of cultural norm that we don’t want to permeate our society.”
He explained that the measure was not designed to set an island-wide minimum wage, but to mandate a living income in certain areas of employment.
“The proposed legislation does not fix or set minimum wages; it primarily seeks to establish a structure, an advisory board that will advise the minister as to how such wages ought to be determined.
“We’re simply saying that time has come for us to take this matter serious enough that we put an advisory board together to collect information, analyze information and give the minister the best possible advice as to what minimum wages should be in the respective sectors, as well as the terms and conditions that ought to apply to those to whom minimum wage is applicable,” Inniss told parliamentarians, stressing that the board would also advise on the minimum terms and conditions of service for any employee to whom the minimum wage applies.
He said the legislation would also make it mandatory for workers to be afforded such rights as lunch hours and work breaks, which he contended are often denied domestic workers and gardeners.
The proposed legislation also protects workers from employers who try to force them to take lower than acceptable wages by threatening to replace them with unemployed people willing to accept lesser pay, the minister explained.
“The state therefore has to intervene and say, ‘look notwithstanding the demand and supply issues in this particular sector, we have a duty to ensure that employers pay employees a wage that is not below what all indicators point to be the acceptable minimum wage,’” he stressed.
While not providing statistics to support his claim, Inniss said many Barbadians, particularly women, were “faced with such a situation and oftentimes feel themselves obligated to take that wage, because the alternative looks a lot grimmer.
“It is everybody’s business that we have the right kind of environment that protects not just the vulnerable but those at real risk for these things,” he said.