… And Now for a Minimum Wage Bill

There is no doubt that last week’s passing of the Domestic Violence Bill in both houses of parliament was a bold and courageous move by the sitting government.

This piece of legislation did not surface a few months back, but rather goes back 20 years or more, when the initial pioneers, mainly women, first recognised its importance in modern day Saint Lucia.

In a legislature dominated by men over the years, seeing a bill like that through parliament would have taken some serious lobbying by women; and, while such lobbying indeed took place, its effect was lukewarm at best.

To be sure there were individual firebrand lobbyists over the years, deceased Ione Erlinger-Ford (Crisis Center) being one of them, never missing an opportunity to highlight the need for such a piece of legislation. However, the solitary voice here and there was not strong enough to move the needle sufficiently to bring domestic violence to the level we saw last week.

The persistence of the women of yesterday in agitating for legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse did not, however, exist in vain as support grew and grew getting key persons in the Government of Saint Lucia to take note of the issue.

And so, the drafting of a piece of legislation to address domestic violence began long before today’s new breed of female politicians took up the challenge to carry it across the finish line. It has never been explained why past administrations never saw it fitting to take on that challenge even though the bill was said to be in a near complete state at the time past administrations held the reins of power.

The fact is that the Pierre administration took on the challenge to take the bill all the way to the finish line. And for proponents of the bill to describe it as one of the most, if not the most comprehensive piece of domestic violence legislature in the region, is impressive, to say the least.

But the Domestic Violence Bill is not the only piece of legislature in country which have had such a journey – being ignored for years despite being talked about in several circles.

The Labour Code took years before it became a reality, described as an Act to reform legislation applicable to labour and industrial relations in Saint Lucia, taking into account international labour law standards and related matters.

But the job is not yet complete. There is one more piece of legislation that must become a reality, a feather in the hat of which ever  administration which makes that piece of legislation law. We speak of the establishment of a minimum wage. Like the two pieces of legislation before it referred to above, it too, is in limbo. The minimum wage subject is one which has been discussed here for many years, with several suggestions made but with nothing being signed into law.

The minimum wage discussion is not a dead subject. On the contrary it is in advanced discussion, one sufficiently advanced that Division 5 of the Labour Code is devoted entirely to it.

Sadly, while the Labour Code gives the Minister for Labour the authority to fix a minimum wage for workers generally, or any class of workers specifically, or for any class of employees in a particular industry or undertaking, no Minister of Labour has yet sought to exercise the authority given to him or her to determine a minimum wage.

We are calling on Prime Minister Pierre to take on this challenge of protecting workers, especially those on the bottom rank of the wage ladder, by bringing to parliament a minimum wage bill. At the very least, Mr. Pierre, a discussion should be initiated between all of the interested parties on the subject. The trade unions, the Employers’ Federation, the Chamber of Commerce to name but a few of the affected parties must be corralled into meaningful discussion.

Prime Minister Pierre has shown he is not afraid to tackle tough issues confronting government. The momentum his administration has generated in passing the Domestic Violence Bill should not be allowed to die. Instituting a minimum wage should be his government’s next project on the ‘Putting People First’ agenda, one of which he proudly speaks with great frequency.

Putting people first is the government’s mantra. What better way of showing that than ensuring the bottom ranked workers, meaning the very low-income workers, are protected from unscrupulous employers.

Minimum wage legislation helps ensure a more just and equitable share of the fruits of progress and a living wage to all who are employed and in need of such protection.

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