PROGRESSIVE Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader Watson Duke says the minimum wage should be raised to a sum that allows workers to receive at least $5,000 a month.
At a news conference on Wednesday at the party’s headquarters, Port Mall, Scarborough, Duke weighed in some of the measures announced in Monday’s budget presentation.
He said he cringed when he learnt the minimum wage had been increased by $3 – from $17.50 to $20.50 an hour.
Duke, an ex-Public Services Association president, said he was also disappointed his former colleagues in the trade union did not condemn the $3 increase.
“I expected from my trade-union colleagues a kind of rumbling. I listened for the bass and the baritone. Nothing was forthcoming,” he said.
Duke said while the increase sounds good on paper, it is only $3.
“You can’t even buy a cigarette for $3. You can’t even buy a joint for $3.”
He said the increase will result in a monthly salary of about $3,600.
“Of course, it is much better than what goes on now. Remember, what is happening now is total advantage.
“But we believe that if you are going to take us out of this deep hole of recession, backwardness, you will really accelerate the workers’ salary to nothing less than $5,000. And so today I am calling for a minimum wage throughout the entire country of nothing less than $5,000.”
Duke, assemblyman for Roxborough/Argyle, also called for a yearly increase in government pensions.
“It must be no less than a percentage of inflation which allows pensioners to always retain their purchasing power. I am also saying that workers be given nothing less than inflation, also on a yearly basis, simply because they must retain their purchasing power.”
But he said the government must do more.
“They must also give them that qualification that is written in the Industrial Relations Act, Section 20, that says that a government, when considering an increase, should look at that which improves and maintains the standard of living.”
Duke also called on the government to rethink its plan to give public-sector workers, who retired between the years 2014-2020, a $4,000 lump-sum payment.
He believes they should be paid an amalgamation of the arrears that the four per cent wage offer, accepted by some 37,000 public-sector workers, would have created.
“Whatever the four per cent would have created on a $7,000 or a $10,000 (salary), pay to all of them and let it be tax-free. At least it is the decent thing they can do.”
Duke accused Finance Minister Colm Imbert of “robbing pensioners in broad daylight.”
“How could you tell me that someone working throughout those years, and your union signed a measly pittance of four per cent – something I frown upon, something I will not sign. I will rather have my hand cut off and placed in a museum for not signing the four per cent for ten years.”
He said the retirees have “no bulwark of defence, and therefore somebody must defend them.”