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posted 16 Sept 2010, 21:22 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 17 Sept 2010, 08:47 ]
Labour Minister Errol Kelvin McLeod has driven a stake into the hearts of tens of thousands of super-exploited workers and gladdened the hearts of employers by announcing a minimum wage of $12.50 cents per hour, one dollar less than what was recommended by the Minimum Wages Board, two years ago.

The minimum wage announcement had been expected to have been made by Finance Minister Winston Dookeran in his presentation of the budget on Wednesday September 8th.

The former President of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union did so in a rambling statement delivered in parliament during the budget debate on the evening of August 16th. McLeod even admitted in his statement that as far back as 2006 he had been calling for a $14.00 minimum wage, but tried to justify his climb down by saying that he had grown and matured since then.

Between April 2005 (the year the $9.00 minimum wage was set) and July 2010 the general level of prices as measured by the Retail Price Index increased by 62%, while the Index of Average Weekly Earnings increased by 31%.

Clearly wage increases are losing the battle with price increases, big time! In fact the nominal wage increase over that period was only half the price increase in percentage terms. In real times it is worse because the purchasing power of the dollar would have actually fallen. Food prices increased by 120% over the same period.

In distinctly uncomfortable mode, McLeod announced the increase by saying it went to $100.00 per day and not as is traditional $12.50 per hour. It was like in Blakie’s calypso Send Them Back when the boss offered the worker $5.00 per week he was told: “me nah wukkin’ for dat”. When offered $20.00 per month he said he would start right away.

Minister McLeod, in his presentation made a curious reference to the PNM attempting to mobilise workers to demand a minimum wage increase. Among unions with small contingents of workers demonstrating around the Red House (the seat of Parliament) during the debate was the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union whose General Council has endorsed McLeod’s political fraction the Movement for Social Justice and whose General Secretary David Abdulah is a government senator.

It should be made clear that the minimum wage does not apply to any unionised worker in the country. In the National Workers’ Union we situate our position on the minimum wage/living wage in the broader context of organising the unorganised workers. We are campaigning for legislation to establish a minimum floor of entitlements for all workers in the country.

This must include: an annual review of the minimum wage which should be no less than two thirds of the national average wage; sick pay; vacation leave; overtime payments; payment for public holidays; the right to have a pay slip; the right to union representation inclusive of the grievance procedure; the right to a written contract; service pay for termination of any kind; the establishment of a severance fund to be funded by employers, its coverage should include loss of employment when a company closes down; unemployment relief to be administered by the NIS.

We have not yet succeeded in convincing our comrades in the labour movement that organising the unorganised is the single most important task in a situation where approximately 18% of the workforce is unionised and that the struggle for the legislated minimum floor of entitlements will in no way weaken the mission of the trade union movement.

It will, instead, narrow the yawning credibility gap that now exists between the leaders of the trade union movement and the most exploited and downtrodden sectors of the working class.

If we succeed in drawing the vast majority of these super-exploited workers into the trade union movement we will then be in a position to negotiate a living wage and not have to concentrate on begging the government for a bly!

After all the strategic mission of the trade union movement is to protect, defend and advance the interests of the working class isn’t it?