Labour Department, be on red alert!
Editorial
February 16, 2024
Labour Department, be on red alert!

An atmosphere of anxiety is building up among the lowest-paid workers in this country as the month of March approaches. Next month is supposed to be the month when the new minimum wage regulations come into effect bringing some relief to workers at the bottom of the national wage scale. The fact that women are very prominent in this category and that many of them are single-parent heads of households gives reason for national concern. God alone knows how some of them manage to feed, clothe and educate their children.

However, as the deadline approaches, there is some ominous talk about negative responses on the part of some employers. Word is circulating that some employers are already indicating some resistance to the proposed new wages and, more ominously, that some are already threatening lay-offs rather than pay an increase in the minimum wage. Others are making a political issue out of this, blaming “Ralph”, (Prime Minister Gonsalves) for raising wages which they cannot afford to pay. These threats are of grave concern to female domestic workers and those employed in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Given our realities in SVG, these workers are not unionised and feel very vulnerable to such threats.

It is not a situation that we should take lightly, for in addition to the female workers, the fate of their children is very much at risk. True, some of the employers who are indicating resistance to the proposed increased wages are among the thousands of us already struggling to cope with rising prices and the rapidly increasing cost of living. But, if they are having difficulty coping, what about their hand-to-mouth employees?

Very frankly, these threats are already frightening some workers who, in fear of losing their job, may be prepared to work for wages below the stipulated minimum just so they can put bread on the table. Even though many workers think that the proposed increases are still not big enough the fear of losing one’s job is very real. Added to this is the fact that the Labour Department has historically not been known for standing resolutely on the side of workers. The ball is therefore in the court of the Labour Department and the Ministry of Labour. A spirited campaign must be carried out to encourage workers to report any employer who makes such threats and to reassure workers that the Department, the Ministry and the Government will stand on their side; after all, the Government boasts that it is a Labour government. This must be translated into action, it must demonstrate that it stands on the side of workers!

Let workers know who to contact if they are laid off or if the employer tries to underpay them. Be prepared to act, even taking legal action, for violation of the new regulations. Be pro-active and put the machinery in action now and give workers the confidence that the administration and the law will defend them.