Minimum Wage in St. Kitts and Nevis: Livable Wage Versus Minimum Wage

by Merv-Ann Thompson

As the conversation of raising the minimum wage continues in the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Minimum Wage Task Force held a panel discussion on Wednesday, September 6th to sensitize the public to the internal discussions thus far and the varying views of a livable wage.

During the discussion that is available on ZIZ Online’s YouTube channel, Paul Queeley, Director of the Department of Consumer Affairs juxtaposed the minimum wage, which is set at $360 gross (before Social Security and levee are deducted) and $340 net weekly, by the weekly expenses of life.

“We did surveys or interviews with minimum wage workers and asked them to fill out a sheet and indicate what it is you purchase on a weekly basis from the supermarket. And based on that information, we used prices from the consumer price index. So we had a list here of person purchasing sugar, eggs, rice, macaroni and cheese, flour, onion, sweet potato, Irish potato, ketchup, chicken wings, lentils, dishwashing, liquid, toothpaste, drink mix, corn, beef, Vienna sausage, sliced cheese, sanitary pads, and pampers. And when we totaled up this list, it came to XCD $319.18.”

Meanwhile, Jeneve Mills, Labour Officer at the Department of Labour said that businesses recognize that the economy is largely driven by minimum wage earners. They are, however reluctant to agree to what the rate increase should be to have a livable wage.

“What all stakeholders are not keen on is, what should be this livable wage. Because the truth is, we recognize in these meetings, a minimum wage is not a livable wage. We realize there’s a big disparity. A means test determined that a livable wage in St. Kitts and Nevis right now would be $2,500 a month at a minimum. That is something that could be considered livable. Why? Because the smallest man will have $318 left with this money, with his list that he put together there to the things that is not mentioned on that list, that is considered livable.”

According to Mills, the government is unable to afford a livable wage but other moving parts can assist with making the situation a little more tolerable.

“However, can the government at this point in time introduce what is considered a livable wage? No. Can the government introduce though a minimum wage? Yes. What can go further than a living wage? One is what Mr. Queeley said here that [Department of] Consumer Affairs would play a part in supporting those of us who are on the lowest spectrum to make sure that when you’re going to the supermarket, the 25% or the 20% markup that was agreed to, is what is being transposed to us and nothing more. We have other entities and stakeholders that will have to get on board to make sure that those persons who really need to be impacted at the level are impacted. And the government itself come over away from some of the social assistance that is causing us to hurt from an economic standpoint at a macro level.”

Ambassador Sam Condor, Chairman of the Minimum Wage Task Force said that from the meetings, businesses are very mindful of their bottom line and that they will not pay more wages than they are mandated to.

Food items such as evaporated milk has increased by 34%; adult pampers by 46%; and tomato paste by 60% have increased rapidly in a four-year period from 2019, according to Queeley.

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