Mixed reactions from retail businesses to new 40-hour work week

There have been mixed reactions from the retail business community to the mandatory five-day work week and new $35,000 per month minimum wage, though generally employers said they would abide by the new regulation.

Yesterday would have ended the first five-day week since the new implementation took effect. The work week now covers 40 hours which translates to eight hours a day for five days. This follows the tabling of an order in the National Assembly. The new minimum wage is expected to benefit some 31,000 workers.

Stabroek News visited several city stores and spoke to both employers and employees. The latter were in most instances reluctant to speak, because of in-store cameras, or spoke on the condition of anonymity.

At Giftland OfficeMax on Water Street, Chief Executive Officer Ian Ramdeo said the adjustment was minimal as the company was already paying lowest scale workers above the minimum wage and was using a shift system. “We have implemented it and [we] are making some adjustments but it is minimal. We have scheduled working hours so for us it isn’t difficult… the shift system helps us to cushion the effect,” he explained.

He said that in the retail industry Saturday was a very important day, but the company has always paid employees for the day.

Ramdeo is optimistic that the business community will adjust to the changes but said that just after the first week he could not concretely say what expenses his company might have incurred.

A Giftland employee said management had already briefed staff about the new regulations, but he and most employees were not worried as they are paid well. “…Everybody here [makes] over thirty-five grand so we ain’t stressing,” he said.

Over at National Hardware the receptionist first questioned the purpose of Stabroek News’ visit. She then spoke with her manager on the phone, then said that he was heading to a meeting that would last all afternoon and into the night.

A manager of the Avinash Mall, Ravina’s and Anand’s chain stores, who only gave her name as Farah, said while there have been requisite implementations, she was not at liberty to discuss same. Her boss, Mr Panday, was not in office.

A spokesperson at furniture maker/seller Oriental General Store said the minimum wage was welcomed as it meant more disposable income to the populace, positively impacting the country’s economy.

The store already pays the minimum wage. However, with the store being in the timber industry, the non-compulsory Saturday was somewhat of a problem. However the company is confident that it could be sorted without negative effects.

Singer’s management described the new law as “administratively untidy” and said that its 40-hour work week extended to Saturday. Its employees work from Monday to Thursday for 7 hours, Friday 7½ hours and Saturday 4½ hours, which add up to 40.

It is not affected by the new minimum wage as it already pays workers above that. The owner of Regent Household Electronics, who did not give his name, said that he did not have a problem with either the minimum wage or the five-day work week but feels the decision was too soon.

He feels employers were not given enough time to organise their human resources. “We already doing what they say but this thing come to rash man. They did not have proper consultations and give you a chance to adjust,” he said.

Checks were made at five Chinese owned stores. At two of the most popular, China Trading and Choice Variety located on Robb Street, management said they had implemented the new regulations. They informed that their employees will be paid $12,000 per week as of today. This was also confirmed by three employees, who said that they were informed of the changes.

This was not the same for some of the Chinese stores on Regent Street. At three stores, management said they could not speak English and there were no translators.

At another, on the corner of Regent and Alexander streets, formerly Keishar’s, employees directed this reporter to a woman called ‘Win She’. However, after enquiring about the purpose of the visit and consulting with other Chinese nationals, she said that she could not answer.

Employees of the store were visibly upset and some mentioned that reporters were given the cold shoulder because the regulations were not implemented. Some even began grumbling about being paid paltry wages.  Minister of Labour Dr Nanda Gopaul has said that those criticizing the development had plenty of time to prepare themselves. He said government will not yield to calls to delay the start date since there was enough notice of the impending changes.

“We are not prepared to budge…there has been long notice given…we believe that if they programme their work properly, they could do it with no additional cost,” he said. “You can have staggered staff [or] you could give workers two days off,” he suggested.

Dr Gopaul said the Tripartite Committee comprising government, private sector and labour, met over one year ago and agreed that these changes were to take effect.

According to the minister, during his Labour Day parade speech on May 1, 2013, at the Critchlow Labour College, he mentioned that these changes were imminent. He said President Donald Ramotar also spoke about the changes as had he himself in the National Assembly earlier in the year. “I gave them the assurance that they could flex. It could be any five days out of seven,” he said.

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