Government is to establish a special board to advise on a minimum wage for this island’s workers.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo made the announcement in the Senate this morning as she led off debate on the Minimum Wages Bill, which was passed in the Senate this evening, repealing the Wages Council Act of 1955.
She pointed out that only about 30 per cent of workers here were unionized.
“For the majority of the workers therefore, their wages are set arbitrarily and while they may be uncomfortable with those wages, while they may not be satisfied that those wages can actually allow them to meet at least a minimum standard of living, there’s very little that they can do. So that is why we’re here today to establish this minimum wage board,” she said.
The move follows the establishment of a minimum wage advisory committee in Antigua and Barbuda, an equal wages commission in St Lucia, and a wages advisory committee in Grenada.
However, Dr Byer-Suckoo said Barbados was yet to decide whether it wanted to have a national minimum wage or a minimum sectoral wage. In making that decision, she said the board would need to take into consideration several social and economic factors.
“The idea, as articulated in the legislation . . . is that you would look especially at those sectors for which there is no appropriate machinery for examining wages and setting wages,” the minister told the Upper House.
During her presentation, Dr Byer-Suckoo also raised concern over new practices which she said were creeping into the local labour market and stood to place workers at a disadvantage.
She highlighted “zero-hours” contracts, explaining that many workers were currently engaged on contracts with no specified hours of work, and none of the traditional employee benefits.
“In a nutshell, essentially, you work for whatever work we give you. If you work for an hour this week, that’s it. If you work for two hours next week, that’s fine. There’s no minimum that says you work 40 hours or if you’re part-time you work 20 hours,” Dr Byer-Suckoo told the Senate.
However, she expressed the view that while such arrangements may be useful for people who want to supplement their income or students looking for part-time work, “we have a concern where that kind of arrangement replaces the proper contract of employment that we are used to”.
The minister revealed that local trade unions were also looking into this practice with a view to ensuring that with all that was currently being done to protect workers, “we are not allowing this practice to slip in without being monitored.
“As a zero hour contract there’s not attached to it anything about national insurance and social security, and those provisions that we have worked long and hard to preserve and protect for our workers here in Barbados,” she said.
Dr Byer-Suckoo also said “micro-jobbing”, which allows employers to offer temporary work to individuals, either in person or online, was another concern.
“Again, similar to the zero-hour contract where you would just get a little job here today to do this . . . and that’s it until they call you again, [it] may be appropriate for certain groups of persons, but over the long term it is not something that we want to see,” Dr Byer-Suckoo stressed.