In his usual style, Prime Minister Gaston Browne lashed out at the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce and its president, Yves Ephraim, this past weekend, for a statement made on Friday, January 27, related to the National Minimum Wage.
Only last Thursday, January 26, the Labour Department issued a notice, reminding employers of their obligations to pay the new rate at the end of the month – or face a fine on summary conviction.
In a press release, the Chamber criticized Minister of Labour Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin over what it perceived as short notice about the effective date of the new minimum wage, which took effect from January 1 this year.
However, Prime Minister Browne took to his affiliated radio station and clapped back at the Chamber and its president, saying that Ephraim had served on the National Minimum Wage Committee on behalf of his organization.
Browne claims the Chamber’s president had agreed to, and had recommended, the $9 per hour minimum wage to the Cabinet for adoption, to be implemented on January 1, 2023.
Further, the prime minister reminded Ephraim that the implementation date had been announced in November – well over a month ago.
He also noted that the United Progressive Party (UPP) had proposed to take the minimum wage to $10 an hour, and the Chamber and its president had sat silently, without objection, to what he deemed the “proposed unsustainable increase.”
According to Browne, he is appalled that, having participated in consultations and agreed to the wage increase, the Chamber and its members are now seeking to undermine the process and to encourage discontent.
Ephraim had complained that some workers had already received their salaries since January 26, without having been paid the raise.
To solve this issue, Browne suggested that, given the late processing of the minimum-wage order by some employers, they should pay “the paltry $16 per employee for the month of January” retroactively.