The focus of a STAR article published last week just as the island observed International Women’s Day had to do with creating a working environment that was non-discriminatory, where citizens got equal work for equal pay. The news item made mention not only of the recent passage of St Lucia’s much anticipated Labour Code, but of the Minimum Wage Commission established by government in December, 2009.
Tuesday, March 15 saw the handing over ceremony of the Minimum Wage Report. The proceeding was held at the Ministry of Communications, Works, Transport and Public Utilities in Union and was attended by Communications and Works Minister Guy Joseph and Labour, Information and Broadcasting Minister Edmund Estephane, among other attendees.
Five members of the Minimum Wage Commission all representing various sectors including Darrel Montrope, Sherma Beroo-Joseph, Paul Kallicharan, Julian Monrose and Raphael St Mark gave brief remarks.
Montrope said the Commission had taken into consideration the fact that Unions and St Lucians would want a “decent enough” minimum wage, but posed the question, what exactly was a decent minimum wage, and what was the capacity of the country to handle it?
“We must all work diligently in bridging that gap,” the representative from the tourism ministry said. “We have a lot more consultation to do in selling that particular message. The determination of a minimum wage is significant to the protection of our poor and vulnerable.”
National Accounts Statistician Sherma Beroo-Joseph added: “Our task was to bring to the table meaningful statistics that would help guide the process of setting a minimum wage. Good statistics provide a basis for good decision-making. The team heavily relied on 2005, 2006 Survey of Living Conditions with emphasis on poverty assessment and acute analysis of the poverty line to ensure the derived minimum wage would by no means result in the deterioration of individuals quality of life.”
Kallicharan from the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) made it clear the team had taken into account the fact that the people who would be most affected by the minimum wage would not be those in the middle or high-income brackets. Those most affected he said were low-income workers who struggled to send their children to school and struggled to pay bills.
“The group the minimum wage really affects are workers struggling to buy food and basic necessities of life,” he said.
Kallicharan said another very revealing aspect was indexation within the report, the automatic adjustment of the minimum wage to a cost of living index. In simple terms, the minimum wage would grow over time. Within five-year intervals, taking into account various factors, a percentage increase was automatic. In addition, there was also a capping consultants said would keep the minimum wage in line with requirements of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Bank and the United Nations.
Consultant Julian Monrose from the St Lucia Teachers Union admitted the whole process had taken time, more time than they’d initially thought.
“My hope is that the report won’t be like other national reports, and the public will be given the opportunity to discuss, comment and most importantly, the recommendation in the report will be implemented.”
Chairman of the Commission Cyrus Reynolds gave the audience quite a lesson in the English language and under any other circumstance he would have sent everyone scurrying for their dictionaries. He jokingly asked whether everyone was taking notes in various parts of his address.
Reynolds noted the Commission had faced a number of challenges initially. To begin with he said they had not been in possession of any documentation on similar exercises to guide the process. He also made it clear that none of the consultants had been paid; their services were completely voluntary.
Minister Edmund Estephane expressed appreciation for the “intense labour put in by the Commission to produce this most anticipated and precious piece of revolutionary work in the labour movement of this country.”
“What you have done is nothing short of miraculous and I do trust its inception will be warm and friendly,” he said. “We will remember your hard work. As a responsive and sensitive government the intended objective of establishing a minimum wage is very much in keeping with the principles of the Decent Work Agenda of the ILO.
“This includes the need to promote a fair wage structure in providing a minimum wage; an acceptable standard of living for low paid workers, the need to prevent exploitation of workers and to alleviate poverty.”
The Labour minister recognized the minimum wage had to be set at a moderate level so it did not cause significant employment losses. Estephane gave assurance that the contents of the report would be carefully studied and recommendations forwarded to the Cabinet.
“We will do all in our power to help this country go forward. I know when this report gets to Cabinet, what needs to be done with it will be done and it will be carefully studied and implemented in the best way that will benefit St Lucia.”