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Minimum wage to increase as of July 1

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As rising food prices continue to give major administrative headaches to regional governments, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has announced measures to tackle the problem here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

An increase in this country’s minimum wage was among the measures Dr Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, announced during a ministerial address to Parliament last Thursday, March 27th.

“As of July 1, 2008, increased minimum wages would be legislated. The process is currently underway to this end,” he said.

The Minister of Finance also said that he was making available EC$2.5 million as a Cost Of Living Support (COLS) to close to 12,000 persons.

Persons on the government-funded monthly public assistance programme, all non-contributory pensioners at the NIS who are paid $75 or less weekly, persons who receive invalidity benefits at the NIS, and lower-end daily paid workers and other such workers employed by the central government will receive an additional EC$20 per month.

“This COLS payment accommodates the current percentage price rise on the accepted basket of food and beverage,” Dr Gonsalves said.

Dr Gonsalves said that this initiative will run between April and December and said that the figure of EC$20 may increase as “circumstances unfold.”

“This is clearly targeted assistance for deserving persons rather than a generalized subsidy which would benefit the better-off individuals,” he said.

He also listed the 19 items that government has submitted to CARICOM on which the Common External Tariff (CET) will be reduced or removed, as soon as all the legal processes are satisfied. He said that he expects this to be completed within a month.

Among these items which will have a reduction or have the CET completely removed are baby formulas (two categories), corned beef, Cheddar Cheese, Codfish and white sugar, dried breakfast cereals, canned sardines and tunas, and herring.

“I will keep the list of food commodities for further on-going review,’ Dr Gonsalves said.

“This reduction or removal of the CET would, all things being equal, result in a fall in prices of these food items,” he said.

He, however, noted that it will be important that the supermarkets and shops pass on the reduction or removal to the customers.

“Vigilance by both the consumer and the State authorities is vital. Reasonableness and fairness are expected from the supermarkets and shops. Price gouging will be exposed.” Dr Gonsalves said.

The National Insurance Scheme minimum pensions and other benefits are also expected to increase when the current actuarial review is completed.

The substantial increase in the supply of agricultural produce also came in for high praise from Dr Gonsalves.

“The sale of seeds at high price at the state-owned Inputs Warehouse Company over the past six months has made a magnificent contribution, for example to tomato production,” he said.

He said that the government “stands ready in partnership with agricultural producers.”

He also advised citizens to get into back yard gardening, which he says should be done in tandem with the “unfolding national Food Production Plan” being spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture.(KJ)

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