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Tuc ‘Emphatic’ In $210 Minimum Wage Opposition

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A leading trade union body yesterday said it “emphatically” disagreed with the new $210 weekly wage, arguing that it was sticking up for non-unionised Bahamian workers.

Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, told Tribune Business that it ‘broke ranks’ with its fellow union, private sector and Government representatives on the National Tripartite Council by rejecting the agreed $210 proposal.

He added that between 50-70 per cent of Bahamian workers would disagree with the $210 ‘consensus’ announced in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, and the TUC would be calling a public rally on the issue.

And Mr Ferguson said the TUC’s position was motivated by concern for workers at the minimum wage level, who typically lacked the protection of industrial agreements and bargaining unit protection.

Sticking to its position that the private sector minimum wage needed to be increased by between 100-133 per cent, Mr Ferguson reiterated the TUC’s belief that $210 per week was “not a liveable wage” for a Bahamian family.

The TUC’s call for a $300-$350 minimum wage is based on what Mr Ferguson described as the findings of a poverty study conducted for the Government - a document he and the union body have yet to see.

The TUC president said he had been assured that the document existed, and recommended the $300-$350 minimum wage range, and the Government had not denied its existence.

“The TUC does not support the minimum wage at $210,” Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business. “We’re on the Council, and we made that very clear.”

Arguing that the Government’s own minimum wage was between $220-$225 per week, slightly higher than the new private sector benchmark, Mr Ferguson said he had been “made to believe” that the purported poverty study had recommended a weekly minimum wage between $300-$350.

“Quite frankly, if it didn’t, all that is required is for the Government to say it,” he added. “We’re satisfied that the $210 is not a reasonable amount for a family of two or three.

“When you think in terms of having to pay rent, buy food and clothing for three people, paying for transportation, paying for school fees and paying for medical bills, we say $210 is not a living wage.”

Conceding that the Government, private sector and non-TUC union representatives on the Tripartite Council all agreed to the $210 minimum wage, Mr Ferguson added: “If you go to a food store, $150 or $210 is not going to take you that far.

“When you look at VAT and all the increases accrued as a result of regular business, it’s not reasonable. When you look at VAT at 7.5 per cent, it cannot be said that is reasonable. We do not support it, and made it emphatically clear that we do not support it.

“We speak for a lot of Bahamian workers who do not share the views of the Council. I guarantee you that if you did a survey, 50-70 per cent of the workers would not have agreed with a minimum wage at $210.”

The minimum wage has not been increased for the 13 years since it was implemented at $150 per week in 2002. Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC), told Tribune Business on Thursday that the private sector’s own study, which accounted for inflation, showed the minimum wage should be $204 - just $6 shy of the agreed $210.

Private sector executives have told Tribune Business that the minimum wage increase will not impact the economy or employment levels, given that most businesses pay salaries well in excess of both $210 and the previous $150 benchmark.

Mr Ferguson, too, agreed that the minimum wage increase would not impact the 15,000 workers covered by the TUC’s bargaining units and industrial agreements, as they all enjoyed higher salaries.

He explained that the TUC’s opposition to $210, and arguments in favour of $350, were rooted in its desire to safeguard workers who lacked union protection. These persons, he suggested, were not represented on the Council.

“The minimum wage is designed for workers who are not part of trade unions,” Mr Ferguson said. “Those people who are not organised are not around the table. The TUC is speaking for those persons not covered by a bargaining unit.”

He denied, though, that the TUC was pursuing a $300-$350 minimum wage to the exclusion of all other issues, including the viability of Bahamian business and the wider economy.

“No wants to destroy the Bahamas. No one wants to put a company out of business, or a worker out of work. That cannot be the objective,” Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business.

He agreed that worker compensation should be founded on the principle of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”, with labour willing to accept “deferred” salary rises if the company was unable to afford it at that particular time.

With productivity the key, Mr Ferguson added: “If you work well, concentrate on productivity, and the company does well, a portion of that humble success should be set aside to reflect the contribution of the worker to that organisation.”

Comments

GrassRoot 5 years ago

I would think that 100% of the workers would disagree with 210 per week. I would think 100% of the workers would disagree with 350 per week, I would think 100% of the workers would disagree with 1000 a week- and maybe they should. the point more is what does an employer get in exchange?

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andrewa 5 years ago

I think you should try living off 210 dollars per week before you insult and generalise all Bahamian workers that way. It is disgustingly inadequate and those who spread the lie that 300 would cause unemployment are uneducated buffoons who know nothing about economics in the Bahamian context.

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Zakary 5 years ago

  • It is disgustingly inadequate and those who spread the lie that 300 would cause unemployment are uneducated buffoons who know nothing about economics in the Bahamian context.

I disagree. It is a general rule that increases in minimum wage result in less people being employed. This is especially true for business that make heavy use of the minimum wage along its employee base. They will compensate for the wage increases by having less people to pay, in light of the demand and supply needs between the employer and employee in a certain market. The argument should not be whether the minimum wage should increase or decrease but whether the minimum wage should even exist.

The numbers prove this notion. Look at countries where there is no minimum wage and you will notice that they all have low unemployment rates. Why is this? Market forces and factors determine the real wage of the workers - efficiency, productivity, profitability. Minimum wage almost always tends to be a faux control of the wages, and indirectly, the employment numbers.

  • Private sector executives have told Tribune Business that the minimum wage increase will not impact the economy or employment levels, given that most businesses pay salaries well in excess of both $210 and the previous $150 benchmark.

  • Mr Ferguson, too, agreed that the minimum wage increase would not impact the 15,000 workers covered by the TUC’s bargaining units and industrial agreements, as they all enjoyed higher salaries.

So who are they really fighting for? They claim the wage is designed for those who are not a part of trade unions, but that is not specific enough to be convincing.

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banker 5 years ago

I am of two minds of this. First of all, $210 a week is not enough to live off of, and buy healthy food and have a fulfilled life. When you couple it to the fact that young mothers are trying to feed babies on this without a male partner contributing financially, you are creating a generation of what we have now -- functional illiterates who are poorly socialised and have been nutritionally disadvantaged all of their lives.

However, the economy is not a welfare state, especially with the amount of kleptocracy and corruption in the successive PLP governments. The education system is worthless, and the monolithic economy is poorly performing. Raising the minimum wage would be just another payroll tax on business, because quite frankly, with the productivity of the average Bahamian worker, they are simply not worth more than the minimum wage to an operating business who remains to be viable. Buying gas is a good example. Bahamian gas stations and super markets employ up to ten times the people that North American gas stations and supermarkets do. As a matter of fact, I have used unattended gas stations (debit/credit card only) in big cities everywhere, and have purchased groceries in a megastore at 1:00AM, using a self-service checkout kiosk with only three or four visible employees, and one of them is a security guard at the door. The kiosks take all forms of payment including cash.

So, to me the question is unsolvable. We sell tourism, and we already have the highest-priced, lowest value tourism product in the region, and this will exacerbate that aspect.

The only true solution is to diversify the economy, and the retarded, corrupt, non-patriotic, sub-human members of the government won't do it, because of greed and stupidity.

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Sickened 5 years ago

Damn Banker! Well said. I like you, and I don't even know you. You need to make a run for Prime Minister.

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John 5 years ago

These union leaders seem to be ignorant to simple laws of economics. A minimum wage may not be a livable wage (for someone living alone or heading a household) but neither was that the intention othepurpose. Minimum wage is suppose to be a reasonable wage for persons entering the work force and a point of reference to work from. This is usually a high school graduate or college student who is still living at home. If a person has mothered or fathered four children and are still earning minimum wage, that fault is in them and not in the system. Likewise if employers are hiring persons who are unqualified and not easily trainable, then one should not expect them to pay top wages. You should remember that wages and salaries are a major input of most businesses. When you increase the lower wage earner, you must also increase everyone above them. When your labor costs increase substantially, you must then increase costs and/or cut back on services. If costs in the food store has to be significally, along with other prices, then there will be no benefit in increasing the minimum wage. In this case a person taking home $350.00 a week will beworse off than if they were taking home only $210.00 a week. More money may not mean more purchasing power.

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