Basseterre, St. Kitts (CUOPM) – Minister of Community and Social Development, the Hon. Marcella Liburd has been highlighting what she calls the governing St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party “workers agenda,” aimed at taking care of those who are least able to help themselves.
Ms. Liburd, the Parliamentary Representative for St. Christopher Two (Central Basseterre), speaking at the recent ceremony to launch the new National Minimum Wage and the Long Service Gratuity Scheme also singled out the need for a new labour code, the introduction of an unemployment fund and a national insurance scheme.
“This is a government that is on the side of the working class; has always been, that is how we were formed and that is how we have remained. And so what we are seeing here is the hallmark of good governance, one of the hallmarks because in any society, if you are not taking care of those who are least able to take care of themselves, then you are not doing anything,” said Ms. Liburd, a former speaker of the National Assembly.
“We believe that we are here to help everybody, but particularly those who are least able to help themselves and so our mission is to ensure the upward mobility of everybody; and that is why this workers agenda is so very important to us,” she said at the recent ceremony to launch the new National Minimum Wage and the Long Service Gratuity Scheme.
“It is really a package of care that we have been formulating over the years and continue to formulate because as times change, you will also have to go back and to make sure you that you tweak the package to be up to date and to put it on the cutting edge and that is what we are doing here in St. Kitts and Nevis,” Ms. Liburd told workers from the manufacturing and hospitality sectors, representatives of the private sector, trade union leaders and government officials.
Using the opportunity to highlight what she deemed five areas of the worker’ agenda, Ms. Liburd said the reform of the present labour legislation is critical.
“I am sure it is no secret that what is currently “The Protection of Employment, Act,” provides little protection for our workers. It is no secret and so we have to reform our labour laws to provide more balance so that our workers can be truly protected and that is one of the things that we are doing with the reform of our labour laws,” she said.
Ms. Liburd said the long service gratuity is close to her heart.
“It actually started when we were trying to fight for pensions for those persons on the Industrial Estate and this fight started more that 30 years ago and so we have to really appreciate how far we have come,” said Ms. Liburd.
A similar request for a gratuity for workers on the industrial sites had been submitted to the previous PAM Administration of Dr. Kennedy Simmonds and was ignored.
“This is really a sort of position we have taken now to say okay, we are not there with the pensions, but we can have something which is the long service gratuity which they truly deserve. I want to commend the women of this country. This Industrial Estate, is 98% female so when you hear about all the good work out of the manufacturing sector and how well we are doing in leading in manufacturing, put your hands together for the women,” said Minister Liburd.
“They fought and struggled and argued and discussed all along that something was lacking. We are not saying that we have found the panacea, but certainly the long service gratuity is something that we feel very proud about and I want to say that this government fought for this on its own,” said the lone female in the Cabinet. Her reference is to the boycott of the National Assembly by the opposition members.
“We debated this in Parliament on our own. We took this fight on our own, nobody helped us and so when you hear all the talk now we have to bear that in mind. We did this all alone. I myself went from factory to factory, year after year, hearing the views of the people in the factories, the women and men and out of that, we came up with this Long Service Gratuity which I am very happy about,” she said.
Ms. Liburd mentioned the late Ms. Patricia Allen.
“I have to mention her today, because she was one of the persons who I use to speak to before she passed. When she passed, we then understood the gravity of the situation, where you can have someone working at Electrofab for 25 years, a good worker and when she passed, she got nothing. That was not nice at all and so we were very happy to put in as a part of the long service gratuity, that even if you have passed, but you have served the time, your estate could still benefit from this long service gratuity,” she explained.
Ms. Liburd used the opportunity to thank the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Manufacturing Industry Association for their assistance in concluding the increase.
“We here in St. Kitts and Nevis are increasing wages for public servants and increasing the minimum wage for the people of this country. We have to take cognisance of that and I want to also say that this government has led by example because before this, the government agreed and has increased the minimum wage of public employees, they now have a minimum wage which of 370 dollars and they have enjoyed this since January of 2014,” said Minister Liburd.
“We have led on that and so in terms of the package, we spoke to the reform of the labour laws, we spoke to the long service gratuity and we speak to the minimum wage, these things are not isolated things, they are a part of the package of care for our workers,” said Ms. Liburd.
She said the unemployment benefit fund has been recently capitalized and would be used to assist workers who temporarily lost their jobs.
“That fund will become available to you so that you can continue to live, this is what we are talking about when we speak about the package of care and a workers agenda,” said Ms. Liburd.
She also disclosed that the National Health Insurance Scheme will soon be introduced.
“In the first phase as you have heard, we look at those persons who are on the social assistance programme already and persons of minimum wage who have no health insurance,” said the Minister of Community and Social Development.
“It’s a package of care. We know that your health is important and we know that health costs are astronomical and so we have to make sure that we have a healthy productive workforce and that is why we are introducing this with the first phase being available to persons on minimum wage,” said Ms. Liburd, a first-term parliamentarian.
“It is a workers agenda that we are working with. It is a package of care and you know that we are working in your best interest as we continue to fight to improve your quality of life as we move this country forward and keep it as the leading country in the OECS if not in the (Caribbean) region,” said Minister Liburd.