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Setting minimum wages is one thing …

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There is certain social legislation, which when enacted and enforced, leads to a transformation in the quality of life of the people of a country.

These laws address environmental matters, like the litter, noise and public health acts; those which guard against discrimination and exploitation, such as consumer protection laws, workplace health and safety legislation, the Protection of Employment Act and the Wages Act.{{more}}

Legislation dealing with most of these issues exists in the law books of St Vincent and the Grenadines, but almost on a daily basis, residents and citizens complain about those who break these laws and the failure of officials to enforce them.

While we are used to hearing complaints about noise, litter and pig pens being established in residential areas, very few persons speak up about those who break employment laws and regulations.

Last week, a ceremony was held to mark the official launch of the wages councils, which will review the minimum wage for various categories of workers in this country. The wages councils are the bodies that decide what should be the minimum paid to workers such as shop assistants, workers in offices of professionals, industrial workers, domestics, agricultural workers, security workers and hotel workers. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the wages councils will recommend an increase in the minimum wages, the last increase having been gazetted almost eight years ago, on July 1, 2008.

Setting minimum wages is one thing; ensuring that our workers get what they are due is another. Despite a relatively well educated workforce, far too many persons are being exploited by employers who take advantage of a scarcity of decent jobs and the near absence of policing of the wages regulations and conditions of work by government officials.

This deficiency in our system has been recognized, and when he addressed the launch of the wages councils last week, Minister of Labour Camillo Gonsalves said the Labour Department will be intensifying its efforts to ensure that employers keep the laws relating to conditions of work, wages and record keeping.

We hold the minister to his word, as attention in this area is long overdue.

Many of the workers who fall into this category never receive letters of employment; they are rotated among different employers for a few days a week at a time, so as to deny them benefits that would accrue to a full-time employee; no National Insurance contributions are made on their behalf; and their workplaces are unsafe and unhealthy.

We need to lift our game nationally to ensure that all categories of workers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

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