Employers to be prosecuted if new minimum wage is not paid

Minister of Labour Dr Nanda Gopaul has warned employers to ensure that they pay their employees the new national minimum wage of $35,000 per month with effect from July 1, since the Labour Ministry will prosecute employers who flout the labour laws.

A release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) said that during an interview on the National Communications Network last Thursday, the minister cautioned that employers 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.

GINA said that in January, government had established a ministerial team led by Minister Gopaul, to work to fine-tune the necessary procedures that would facilitate the establishment of a national minimum wage. This initiative was supported by a tripartite committee consisting of government officials, representatives from labour unions and the private sector organisations. Following these discussions, the new minimum wage was approved by Cabinet.

Gopaul disclosed that the recent decision to implement a national minimum wage will result in a higher standard of living, in addition to increased wages for approximately 31,000 workers.

The minister said that in 2012, a new minimum wage had been implemented for some categories of workers including shopkeepers, fuel station attendants, restaurant workers and bar employees, but this move failed to cater adequately for other vulnerable groups. He was quoted as saying, “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.”

GINA quoted the minister as saying that shift workers who are employed to work on weekends will benefit from a premium rate of pay, 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. He advocated, “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.”

The minister said that under the new minimum wage, no worker should be paid less than $202 per hour, $1,616 daily, $8,080 per week, or $35,000 per month. With 40 hours per week in a five-day work week, he explained, “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.”

GINA said Gopaul reported 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.

He said, “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 [of the new minimum wage].”

The minister acknowledged that government workers have a relatively higher salary scale where the minimum amounts to approximately $50,000 per month. This rate, he said, was set as a result of collective bargaining agreements between the government and trade unions.

According to the minister, “We didn’t want to put the national minimum wage to the public sector [rate] because for us to do that would put the private sector under pressure especially those who are struggling… that is why we work[ed] with the private sector and trade union officials to find a good balance.”

GINA said that Gopaul stated that the implementation of the new minimum wage will be monitored, and may be further adjusted upwards if necessary.

According to the Labour Minister, public support for the new wage scale has been good, and some have called for even more to be paid as they find it hard to attract workers at current pay rates. He added, “All the trade unions and business leaders are also in agreement, and this has set the stage for trade unions to further bargain for betterment of their employees.”

GINA said that 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) to ensure compliance.

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