Minimum wage could range from $13.20 to $17.30 an hour
Employers could have to pay at least $17.30 an hour to staff if recommendations from the Wage Commission are adopted, it was revealed yesterday.
Cordell Riley, the chairman of the commission, unveiled three options for a minimum hourly wage – $13.20, $15.75 and $17.30.
The figures represented 42 per cent, 50 per cent and 55 per cent of the present average pay rate.
Mr Riley said the figures were only “minimum” wage recommendations that, if implemented, could still leave many families on the poverty line.
He added: “One of the working definitions of poverty related to wages is that a person is considered to be in poverty if they earn less than half the median wage rate.
“It is deemed unconscionable that this is the case in an affluent country like Bermuda. It is therefore essential that an appropriate minimum wage be established.”
Jarion Richardson, the One Bermuda Alliance shadow labour minister, said he backed liveable and minimum wage levels - but claimed the announcement of “incomplete conclusions” risked “speculation and destabilises our ailing, vulnerable economy”.
Mr Riley said it was believed as many as 5,000 people on the island – 15 per cent of the workforce – earned poverty-level wages.
He added $13.20 an hour was “the wage floor option”, and that many employers had reported that they paid at least that rate.
Mr Riley said the $15.75 an hour option was “at the poverty level threshold, thus setting a wage level that is not below the poverty level”.
He added: “This provides workers with greater wage dignity and begins taking those at the lower end out of poverty.”
Mr Riley admitted: “This rate would be a stretch for some employers, but early indications are that most would be able to make that stretch.”
He said that $17.30 an hour was “at the lower bounds of a liveable wage”.
Mr Riley added: “A minimum wage at this level would pave the way for the transition to a livable wage.
“However, some feedback received by the commission was that some employers would have to take measures to achieve this wage while others may go out of business altogether.”
But Mr Riley said, despite the concerns, there was strong evidence that a minimum wage could benefit employers and staff.
He added: “Among the more developed nations of the world, Bermuda is among the few that does not have a minimum wage, and the goal is to remove us from that list.”
The commission will also examine a “livable” wage, which will be higher than a minimum wage.
Mr Riley said: “When making recommendations for a living wage, which the legislation defines as the income necessary for an employee and their household to enjoy a socially acceptable standard of living, the commission will consider essential costs such as food, housing, clothing, medical needs, childcare, and transportation.”
Jason Hayward, the labour minister, added that a minimum wage would “improve the lives of many by ensuring that they receive fair and just wages allowing individuals and their families to cover their basic needs”.
The commission’s report will be tabled in the House of Assembly next Friday.
The members are expected to publish its findings into a living wage rate early next year.
Mr Hayward said that the Government would “review the recommendations and considerations contained in the reports with an aim to table in Parliament a wage bill that will establish a statutory minimum wage in alignment with a living wage regime”.
He added: “The Government is steadfast that we improve the lives of workers in this country.”
Mr Richardson said: “These kind of announcements are reckless and irresponsible.
“They cloak political pandering with pseudo-science and do little to add clarity to an already unstable economy.”
He added: “At this point, the public hasn’t been told what impact this will have on jobs and the labour market.
“Or maybe the report will include this - or maybe it won’t.
“The public are left to assume and guess. This is not how people plan for their future.”
Mr Richardson said: “This kind of announcement plays into the story that busineses, including small businesses and entrepreneurs, are profit-hoarding, unethical and megalomanical.”
He added: “If we’re going to have a liveable wage or minimum wage - and we should - then it cannot be announced piecemeal.
“It cannot leave businesses businesses hoping and guessing. Because a business that is reliant on guessing is a business that would rather not take the risk.”
The commission, set up in February 2020, is made up of union representatives, business leaders and economists.