The recently published results of a PayPulse survey on salaries in the Caribbean have sparked off a lot of comment among Vincentians. This is to be expected since that survey ranked St Vincent and the Grenadines at the very bottom of the scale in terms of salaries paid in the Caribbean. Of the 15 Caribbean countries included in the survey, SVG is ranked at the very bottom with a salary level of 73.3 per cent below the regional average.
Quite naturally, this information has generated a lot of comment in the media, especially in political circles. The silence of the government on the matter has only made things worse, since there is a perception that the Gonsalves administration is quick to blow its trumpet when good news is in the offing, so why the silence in this case?
However, before we comment, it is necessary to, as said by our own late calypso bard, the Mystic Prowler, crowned Calypso Monarch in Trinidad and Tobago in 1998: “Look below the surface”. There is much more involved than the mere salary statistics reveal. In the first place, one must ask which roles, which jobs are covered in the survey. According to our information, some 30 roles were covered, most in the private sector and covering many senior positions such as Chief Executive Officer, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Other jobs such as Compliance Analyst, Full Stack Developer, Software Engineer, DevOps Engineer, Legal Counsel, Field Technician and Customer Service Representative were included. Though this does not negate the validity of the findings, it raises other aspects.
In the first place, the fact that in SVG the Government is by far the largest employer, changes the picture considerably. Apparently, the survey did not cover a lot of essential categories such as teachers, nurses, police officers and civil servants. Surely that must be taken into consideration. But above all, there is the fundamental issue that a salary survey alone cannot be an accurate measurement of living standards in any country. A number of equally important factors must be considered as well. Among these are the cost of living, the tax structures, provisions for social security and so on.
These constitute what is termed the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a metric compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, used to quantify a country’s “average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development – a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living”. That metric places SVG as having a high HDI in 2021, ahead of such countries as St. Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica and Dominica, all ranked above SVG in the salary scale survey.
The reality is that our social safety net is much stronger than many parts of the Caribbean, benefiting in such areas as free education right up to university level and free or subsidized health care. Dollar amounts in salary calculation alone cannot paint the true picture. This is by no means an excuse for low compensation, but the context is important. Significantly much of the heat generated from the release of the survey is not directed where it ought to be – at the private sector, but they will point to the small size of the economy as an excuse. But surely the larger and more successful businesses can do better, unlike the small and medium enterprises struggling to survive.