By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Chamber of Commerce's top workforce specialist yesterday revealed he has "no clue" where the director of labour's assertions about a $300 weekly minimum wage originated from.
Peter Goudie, who is also the National Tripartite Council's vice-chairman, told Tribune Business he "did not appreciate" John Pinder wrongly suggesting that body had been discussing the issue of a public sector minimum wage hike "for some time".
Speaking after the Council met yesterday, Mr Goudie said it had not discussed the minimum wage - and its potential increase - since 2015, and he did not foresee any increase for either the public or private sector "at the moment" as the matter will only be reviewed next year.
He pointed out that the Council, which is the primary authority for addressing all labour-related disputes and issues in The Bahamas, had also not included a minimum wage increase in its three-year strategic plan which had been vetted by both the Government and trade unions.
Suggesting that the issue had only returned to prominence after the Prime Minister last week vaguely indicated a public sector minimum wage rise was being considered, Mr Goudie urged both the Government and political Opposition to base their arguments on facts rather than emotion and talk.
Questioning what Philip "Brave Davis", the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) leader, meant by the term "livable wage", the Chamber of Commerce's labour leader said the National Tripartite Council used data provided by the Department of Statistics to ensure the last minimum wage increase in 2015 brought impacted workers to an income "better than the poverty level".
Expressing surprise at Mr Pinder's suggestion that the Council was supportive of a 42.9 percent increase in the public sector minimum wage, Mr Goudie told Tribune Business: "I have no idea where John Pinder is coming from, but I can confirm to you we have never had a discussion at the National Tripartite Council - until today - on the minimum wage since 2015.
"We talked about what had been in the papers today. It only confirmed what I had told you; that we have not had any discussions. I have no idea what John is referring to, period. We will probably look at the minimum wage next year, but that would only be reviewing it and we would have to make any recommendations to the minister, and the minister to Cabinet.
"I just don't see anything happening at the moment. John Pinder, and what he said, is not what happened at the National Tripartite Council. I don't appreciate him saying what we did at the National Tripartite Council when it's not the truth. It was never discussed. I don't know what meeting he was at, but it was not the National Tripartite Council."'
Mr Pinder does not sit on the National Tripartite Council, which is chaired by his predecessor as director of labour, Robert Farquharson. Mr Goudie said yesterday's National Tripartite Council meeting aimed to "set the record straight" after the director of labour said earlier this week it had been engaged in discussions "for some time" on a proposed minimum wage increase.
Refuting such suggestions, he added: "It was not even in our three-year strategic plan, which was reviewed by the minister, unions and Chamber. The minimum wage was not brought up by anybody. I don't know where this has come from.
"What I told you was the truth, and I'm not backing down from that. The cards will fall where they want. This was not an issue. It only became an issue because the Prime Minister mentioned it. I don't know where John Pinder is coming from, but he does not speak for the National Tripartite Council. The minimum wage, period, has not been discussed, let alone $300."
Mr Goudie's comments further hint at the seeming confusion and uncertainty within government circles on whether a public sector minimum wage hike will occur and, if it does, to what extent. K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, who has sought to hold the line on public sector union industrial agreements, said no funds had been allocated in the 2019-2020 Budget for this purpose.
He added that the matter was still being discussed by the Cabinet, which contradicted Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, who had previously assured that public sector workers earning the minimum wage would enjoy an increase from the present $210 level during this fiscal year.
Then came Mr Pinder, who asserted that the Government is seeking to increase the public sector minimum wage to $300 per week with discussions ongoing. Mr Goudie's denial of the National Tripartite Council's involvement adds to the impression that Dr Hubert Minnis suggested a hike was forthcoming merely to appease an increasingly volatile industrial relations climate within government.
Mr Goudie, meanwhile, called for the minimum wage debate to be based on facts. "When we reviewed the minimum wage in 2015 we based it on statistics, not what you or I think," he said. "We determined, when we increased the minimum wage from $150 to $210, that the $210 was above the poverty level.
"I don't know where this term 'livable wage' comes from because we have statistics to confirm what we were doing was better than poverty. I'm not saying people should live in poverty, but we had them above the poverty level.
"This term 'livable wage' was not discussed at the National Tripartite Council either," Mr Goudie added. "What does it mean? Where are the statistics, and where is the proof? That is only talk because you do not have the statistics we had in 2015, which came from the Department of Statistics, and upon which we based our decision.
"We did a lot of work. It wasn't a whim. It was based on data. We didn't do something out of the blue. If you're going to go out and talk about something like this, you need to get your facts first and then talk."