Labour Minister Dr. Nan Kishore Gopaul has warned that employers, who are not paying the recently introduced national minimum wage could be fined or even jailed.
He was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as saying that those who are delinquent and pay their staff less than the national minimum wage will, if found guilty, pay a fine of $35,000 for the first offence. The second offence will result in a fine of $75,000 and one month in jail.
The minimum wage of GUY$35,000 takes effect July 1. Authorities estimate that at least 31,000 workers would benefit from the wage.
Under the new wage measure, no worker should be paid less than $202 per hour, $1,616 daily, $8,080 per week, or $35,000 per month, the Minister said. With 40 hours per week catering for a five – day work week he said, “Should they be required to work beyond the stipulated work week, they have to be paid overtime in accordance with the various labour laws of the country,” he said.
The implementation of the new wage standard will also be monitored by officials of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) as they interact with workers and employers regularly, to ensure compliance, according to authorities.
Cabinet gave the green-light for the minimum wage following talks among government, business leaders and labour union officials via a tripartite committee.
Minister Gopaul said that the new measure addresses the fact that previously, many workers were not privileged to earn overtime, “holidays with pay, leave with pay and they were not privileged to earn minimum wage based on stipulated working hours. They were exploited for 12 and 13 hours per day, they were exploited for a longer working week, and they weren’t given anything. We thought that by doing this, we would regulate a relationship between employer and workers…those who we found to be the most exploited in this country, they will benefit from this introduction (new minimum wage)”.
The minister said that, a new minimum wage was implemented in 2012 for shopkeepers, fuel station attendants, restaurant workers and bar employees, but this move failed to cater adequately for other vulnerable groups. “It was felt then that a national minimum wage would be the ideal thing, rather than just looking at certain categories. If you set a national minimum wage you would cover all these categories, as well as wipe out the anomalies which exist in the society”.
Shift workers who are employed to work on weekends will benefit from a premium pay rate as the rate will be based on the fact that they work on weekends and holidays, regardless of whether they are over or under the regulated 40- hour work week. “Those who are working under conditions less advantageous should be brought up to the minimum conditions at least. Those who are earning higher should continue to receive it”. He added that it is an opportune moment for this action to be taken as, “The PPP/C has demonstrated its working class interest, and we have demonstrated that we are protecting and looking for our less fortunate privileged and workers”.
It was acknowledged that government workers enjoy a relatively higher salary scale which amounts to approximately $50,000 per month. This rate is driven by collective bargaining agreements between the government and trade unions, the minister said. “We didn’t want to put the national minimum wage to the public sector because for us to do that would put the private sector under pressure especially those who are struggling… that is why we work with the private sector and trade union officials to find a good balance”. The implementation of the new minimum wage will be monitored, and may be further adjusted upwards if necessary, according to the minister.