National minimum wage increase: Govt to spearhead “wide consultations”

Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton

Even as several civil society bodies are pushing for government to implement the increase in the national minimum wage, President Dr Irfaan Ali contended that the Labour Minister has to conduct wide consultations before this is done.

The Head of State made this remark to reporters on the sidelines of an event at State House on Friday. He said that Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton has been tasked with presenting a holistic paper to Cabinet after consulting with stakeholders.

“The Minister of Labour has been consulting on this issue. He has not brought before Cabinet the full paper to be discussed on this issue. The private sector had views on this issue. We’ve asked the Minister to have wide consultation, bring together the views of everyone and then present a holistic paper. The Minister still has that responsibility to bring a holistic paper [to Cabinet],” President Ali told reporters.

Shortly after taking office in August 2020, Minister Hamilton had announced the increase of the Private Sector minimum wage to $60,000 from $47,000. However, while an order to this effect was made, there was no timeline set for its enforcement. This was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on businesses.

When the country began opening up last year, these talks resumed. The Labour Minister had been re-engaging the private sector on enforcing these increases.

The public sector minimum wage currently stands at $70,000, and even with this increase for private sector workers, it would still be less. The private sector’s minimum wage was last increased in 2017, from an hourly rate of $202 to $255, taking the monthly wage from $35,000 to $44,200.

Minister Hamilton had previously explained that this increase to $60,000 would only impact about 10 per cent of private sector workers, who are currently being paid below that wage level.

Last year, when Government announced a seven per cent retroactive salary increase for all public sector workers, it sparked conversations about pay in the private sector. In fact, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) had called on private businesses to follow suit in order to attract and retain their workforce.

This call was reiterated last month during the Labour Day March by FITUG President Carvil Duncan who urged the private sector to take the initiative and not wait for the policy to be implemented at the Government level.

“There are some employers who are saying to us, they are willing to pay the $60,000. But at the same time, they need the State to make the pronouncement and make the law. I say to them now, if you have the ability to pay and you are satisfied that your workers are poorly paid, then pay them and don’t wait on nobody. Because it is said, that the private sector is the engine of growth. You have to demonstrate that growth,” Duncan said.

Meanwhile, GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine was also of a similar view when it comes to the time for paying workers an increased minimum wage. He also lauded the Government’s efforts to cushion the cost of living.

“The provision of grants and other direct support to vulnerable groups would have assisted to stem the challenges. We recognise too, fiscal measures to reduce duties payable on important commodities.”

“We had anticipated that by this time that the new minimum wage of $60,000 per month, which enjoys the support of the social partners, would have been implemented. It is our considered view, that it is difficult for any worker to survive on the current minimum wage,” Narine said.