CONSIDERATION by Government of accelerating the minimum wage of income-earners on this category is warranted, but should be implemented at a level that might not cause inflation or further unemployment, says the president of the San Fernando Greater Chamber Kiran Singh.
The Prime Minister, during a post-Cabinet media conference on Thursday, said his government was considering a rise within the minimum wage to ease the burden of lower-income earners.
Chatting with Newsday by phone on Friday, Singh said wage increases were warranted across the board – in the private and non-private sector – owing to the state of the economy.
Recently, most public-sector employees settled for a 4 per cent increase over two collective bargaining periods between 2014 and 2019.
Singh said a rise would help those on the lower end of the income scale to provide sufficiently for his or her families, given the high cost of living.
“The Chamber is heartened by the Prime Minister’s cautious response in regards to the increase causing inflation, because we wish to see the economy thrive.
“We’ve to watch out by what quantum the rise is applied to make sure those on the lower end wouldn’t be the primary to go.
“We don’t want the employment levels to diminish or unemployment levels to extend if there’s a big increase. We’ve to be very wary (of) how that’s handled.”
In his Labour Day address, president general of the Oilfield Staff Trade Union (OWTU) Ancil Roget proposed a $30 increase from the present rate of $17.50 per hour.
Singh said that figure was a bit unrealistic.
“While we share the opinion that salary increases are warranted across the board, not only minimum wage, but those in the federal government service and within the private sector, what we wish to see is a shared sacrifice we proceed to face as a complete country.
“The economy is just not what it once was, so we now have to find a way to survive with the limited resources we now have.
“The SME continues to be the major generator of employment after the federal government, and we now have a responsibility to be certain that employees proceed to be employed.
“We consider Government is sharing that opinion and is being cautious in its approach to extend minimum wage.”
Agreeing with Dr Rowley that the major driver of inflation was the food import bill, Singh said the chamber had aggressively promoted a “grow local, buy local and eat local” mantra.
While agreeing with Government’s thrust towards food security and agricultural production, Singh pointed to the import of key products into local food production, which drives up the costs.
He said it was a really delicate balancing act, given the forex challenge, “which also ties back in with the rise in minimum wage, adding to a rise in production for the essential food items we try to preserve to scale back the food import bill.”
On condition that over time, locals have shied away from agriculture, Singh suggested the engagement on this ventureof Venezuelan nationals who’ve been given temporary residential status.
He suggested the implementation of a mechanism much like the Canada farm programme initiative, using foreign labour to generate products that may in turn generate foreign exchange.
“We’ve the right weather for agriculture, especially short-term crops. Tobago was the food basket of the region a couple of a long time ago. Why can’t we return to that?
“We were the cocoa and occasional giants of the Caribbean, and we still maintain the very best cocoa on the earth. On a recent visit to a Belgian chocolate museum, I used to be pleasantly surprised to see TT featured, and as some of the sought-after locations for the high-grade cocoa we grow.
“Even the scorpion pepper is very wanted. We should always monetise these agricultural products to an extent where each level of arable land space is utilised to grow and export and really generate some next foreign exchange.”