The opposition has demanded a national minimum wage scheme and now the PPP is apparently listening. But who is the PPP really listening to in formulating this minimum wage agenda? For if it is only the business class, which incidentally is part of the plutocracy, we are royally up that creek without a paddle. It really depends on who dominates this process because we could end up with a shameful imitation of a minimum wage that makes a mockery of the struggles of the poor and working class in Guyana, which happens to be the majority, or we could end up with a vehicle by which the systemic abuse by the wealthy class of the poor is remedied and greater opportunities for more at the bottom to advance to the middle are provided. This move is a moment of truth for the PPP and where it eventually arrives with a national minimum wage will indicate to Guyanese whether this party is pandering to the powerful or truly playing for the proletariat.
Any minimum wage regime must consider a living wage as a baseline. In the past 20 years of PPP rule, the cost of living has become a crippling reality, in part because the PPP continues to downplay inflation officially while inflation in reality continues to bite off large chunks of the working class wages. What also has to be factored in is the massive increase in wealth for the top 10% in Guyana in the 20 years of PPP rule. A minimum wage must be seen as a tax on the wealthy in Guyana, especially from a government that is incapable of collecting the due share of taxes from the upper crust, and an upper crust that vehemently defends its right to not pay its fair share. It is scandalous that the PPP has created a group of supremely wealthy individuals in this country from taking taxes from the poor in VAT and from a backbreaking 33⅓% personal income tax rate and yet allows the newly created ultra wealthy to ride roughshod over the people who work for them by paying them low wages. This is not even to consider the travesty of a tax rate that taxes the poor at the same rate as the rich.
While I commend the PPP on this national minimum wage regime, we must pay careful attention because the PPP is not a party that is able to stand up for the working class any more. Baseline incomes in various sectors must be set and not breached in any national minimum wage calculation. Why stop at the national minimum wage and not consider a progressive taxation system where the wealthy pay a higher rate than the poor? Why not raise the NIS contribution rate and amounts for employers so they are paying their fair share to fund retirement for those they employ? It is good to see the PPP considering some of the opposition’s appeals but the proof will be in the pudding.