By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is awaiting a recommendation from the National Tripartite Council on what the country’s new minimum wage should be, Labour Minister Shane Gibson said yesterday.
He said as soon as the recommendation is given, a “formal presentation” will be made to his colleagues who will “make the final determination as to what we advance.”
Mr Gibson also said the members of the National Tripartite Council have been named, and will be sending the government “numerous recommendations” on matters going forward.
Mr Gibson’s comments came almost a month after Prime Minister Perry Christie acknowledged that the country’s minimum wage is “not enough” but said the government would raise it “incrementally” as “circumstances would allow”.
Additionally, last month Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said he was “lobbying within the government” for a “livable” increase in minimum wage.
“We’re still waiting on the tripartite council to give us recommendations,” Mr Gibson said yesterday after the opening ceremony of an International Labour Organisation conference.
“We asked them to have those recommendations to us by the end of last year, they didn’t. I urged them again last night to have those recommendations to us as quickly as possible as soon as we get the recommendation from the tripartite council then we will have a formal presentation to all my colleagues who will make the final determination as to what we advance. But I think everybody would agree that $150 is too low for minimum wage in the Bahamas today.”
A bill was passed in the House of Assembly earlier this year to create the tripartite council.
“In anticipation of the council being formalised through legislation, we actually named the council already,” Mr Gibson added. “We have two reps from the National Congress of Trade Unions and one from the Trade Union Congress. That’s because we actually have two umbrella organisations in the Bahamas when normally you have one, so we wanted to make sure they were all represented.
“We have of course three representatives from the Employer’s Confederation in the Chamber of Commerce as well as three representatives from the government. They actually started meeting from (the middle of) last year. They’ll be sending us a number of recommendations as a result of those meetings.”
Last month Mr Christie said the government would use “indicators of the economy” as its guide to increasing the minimum wage. However, he did not specify the figure the government was looking at for the increase.
Responding to calls from NCTUB President John Pinder for the government to raise minimum wage in the country to $350 a week, Mr Christie acknowledged that the country’s minimum wage is “not enough” but said the government would raise it “incrementally” as “circumstances would allow”.
“The first indication will be when we go to budget in May of this year, when I will be able to give the country an idea of what we’re able to do,” Mr Christie said last month. “The government at this time is still finding it difficult and has asked unions to accept packages that do not include a rise in pay.
“Those are the circumstances we face, and though I have indicated we have turned the corner, that is the promise of investments to come. So I can’t base my view on minimum wage on what has not happened. I have to use the indicators of the economy as they are, to guide us on what we are doing.”
Minimum wage in the private sector is $150 a week.
The proposed minimum wage increase has sparked mixed reaction from the business community. Rupert Roberts, Super Value’s owner, has said he would be in favour of raising the weekly rate by 33 per cent to $200, and would adjust salaries at the lower end of the supermarket chain’s pay scale accordingly.
Others, such as Phil Lightbourne at Phil’s Food Services, have also backed a minimum wage increase.
However, Robert Myers, former Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation chairman, expressed concern that such a rise would spark pressure for similar salary increases throughout the economy – especially in union-dominated sectors.
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.