By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Public Services Union (BPSU) President Kingsley Ferguson has warned the government should expect demands for a “general” wage increase in the “underpaid” public sector if the Minnis administration follows through on its plans for a salary increase for MPs.
Mr Ferguson, who replaced John Pinder earlier this year as BPSU chief, said while he welcomes and encourages the idea of a wage increase for parliamentarians, he strongly believes such a move should “come hand in hand” with an increase to minimum wage and pay reviews across the public sector.
Referring to reasoning provided by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis last week when he announced his government’s plan, Mr Ferguson said he was sure he could find “all types of people” willing to present their views for a “deserved” salary increase.
“We have workers that have to look at the reports of big contracts and massive payouts and then reflect on their lack of money for proper healthcare, school fees and, in most cases, everyday expenses,” Mr Ferguson told The Tribune.
“We can give an even greater justification and we intend to because the cost of living in this country, when placed next to what public service workers and persons making minimum wage [earn], we see that life in the Bahamas is really and truly close to unliveable.”
The current minimum wage is $210 per week.
During contributions as debate wrapped up in the House of Assembly on a constitutional amendment bill to create an independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions last week, Dr Minnis said an independent committee would be established to review all salary structures for government entitles.
Dr Minnis asserted the time had come for a serious review of wage scales in the public sector, albeit due to the prevalence of high wages and contracts handed out by the Christie administration while in office.
Dr Minnis said: “I only want to put the nation on notice that the time has come when individuals are being paid by that [former] government half-a-million per annum, individuals are receiving contracts up to $800,000 and the Members of Parliament are being paid $28,000. I want to put the country on notice that at the next budget I will come forward with a pay increase for the Members of Parliament.”
He added: “I will establish an independent committee who will look at the members’ salaries, who will look at salaries for these half-a-million, these $800,000 and these contracts signed a few hours before election, all of that will be reviewed. [The committee will] review all salary structures for government entitles.”
In response Monday, Mr Ferguson said “major concerns” with the standard of living afforded to labourers across the country make any extensive debate on the issue “unnecessary.”
He told The Tribune: “We’ve been agitating for wage increases for years. The political discussion is far and away from the point that persons working across the public sector are underpaid.
“If this is the way for us to start the conversation, I am all for it because it has been a long time coming. We are open to meeting with the government and laying out a terms and reasoning also.”
Shortly after Dr Minnis made his announcement last Thursday, Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson suggested parliamentarians should make $60,000 to $70,000 per year, likening their current pay to “janitorial salaries.”
His comments have since sparked anger from some in the opposition who have called on him to apologise.
“I think that $28,000 a year is highly ridiculous,” Mr Robinson said last week. “Members of Parliament are being given janitorial salaries. It is no easy task out there and if we are serious about stemming this tide of corruption then we must have a balanced approach to it and I think this increase would give that balanced approach.”
As leader the Official Opposition, Dr Minnis rejected the Christie administration’s suggestion to raise the salaries of parliamentarians in 2014.