By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
JOHN Pinder, National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas President, has praised the government’s recent passing of the National Tripartite Council Bill as a “step in the right direction” on addressing labour issues in the country.
Mr Pinder also said the government needed to consider raising the minimum wage in the country to $350 a week.
Mr Pinder’s comments came after the National Tripartite Council Bill, which seeks to foster better relations with employers, trade unions and the government, was passed in the lower chamber of the House of Assembly on Monday.
He also spoke after Labour Minister Shane Gibson, in outlining the government’s priorities as it relates to Bahamian workers, told the House of Assembly that a minimum wage increase and redundancy pay reforms, top the government’s agenda.
Last month, Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said he was “lobbying within the government” for a “livable” increase in the minimum wage.
During an interview with The Tribune on Tuesday, Mr Pinder said the bill’s passing was “definitely the way forward” in creating smoother labour relations in the country.
“This social dialogue is what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been speaking to for a number of years,” he said. “In their convention, it is expected of our government since we signed on to that convention to put this in place, so this is a step in the right direction, this calls for better consultation.
“Whereas in the past they can go in the (House of Assembly), present a bill and send you a draft copy of the bill for commencement, with this, anything relating to the workers in the country, we should have some input, along with the employer and the government. That in my view calls for a more transparent way of doing business and more transparent policies, guidelines and procedures.”
The National Tripartite Council Bill is designed to eliminate the miscommunication and uncertainties that have plagued Bahamian workplace relations in the past through having nine permanent representatives.
To make up the tripartite, officials told Tribune Business that the private sector, trade unions and the government would each nominate three persons to sit on the council.
Regarding minimum wage, Mr Pinder said: “We believe the government needs to consider at least $350 as a minimum wage, as a livable wage, so that persons are able to live above the poverty line and keep a meal on the table. Maybe the public service can afford the $350 a week, but maybe the private sector should have a minimum wage of $300.
“In that, there’s some trades in the private sector that may not want to pay the $300, but it should be between $300 and $350, because people can’t really survive on less than that.”
The annual minimum wage for public servants is $11,500 or $210 per week. However, the minimum wage for the private sector is $150 weekly/$4 per hour –$7,800 annually.
National statistics released last June revealed that 12.8 per cent of the population is living in poverty, a 3.5 per cent hike since the last recorded study in 2001.
The absolute poverty line – the minimum amount needed for a person to meet basic needs – is $4,247 annually. In 2001, the annual poverty line was $2,863.