Minister of Gender Affairs and Community Development, Marcella Liburd, called the programmes a “workers agenda”, where by the government is showing its support for the working class citizens of the federation.
“What we are seeing here is one of the hallmarks of good governance and in any society, if you are not taking care of those who are least able to take care of themselves then you’re not doing your job.”
She noted that these new initiatives are part of a package of care that they have compiled for years and they will continue to formulate as time changes.
“Our mission is to ensure the upward mobility of everybody and that is why this workers agenda is so very important to us.”
She explained that the initiatives take five forms; all seeking to assist and benefit those hard working individuals in the federation.
The Minister explained that a reform of the labour laws is needed to strike a balance so that all workers within St. Kitts and Nevis can be protected.
“One has to do with the reform of our labour laws that is critical to us. Because I am sure it is no secret that what is currently the Protection of Employment Act provides little protection for our workers.”
Another initiative in the package is the ‘Long Service Gratuity’
This has been a sticky point for the government for some years but it has come to fruition,
“We have been battling with this for a long time now… it all started when we were fighting for pension for those persons on the industrial estate … this fight started 30 years ago.”
“We were very happy to put in as part of the long service gratuity that even if you passed and you serve the time, your estate could still benefit from this long service gratuity,” Liburd added.
She stressed that this initiative was fought for by the government on its own without the absenting opposition from the House.
Touching on the third area of the package, the Minister noted that minimum wage was a fight which they brought to the House also on their own.
The minimum wage has seen three increases under the current government, with the final being moved from EC$320 per week to EC$360 per week or $9 per hour for a 40 hour week.
This is the highest minimum wage paid to citizens living within the OECS member states.
On this backdrop Liburd explained that during the difficult economic challenges gripping countries and businesses around the region and by extension the world, the federation was able to increase the minimum wage of its citizens.
“We are increasing wages for public servants and increasing minimum wage for the people of this country.”
Another initiative taking effect soon is the ‘Unemployment Benefits’ which has recently been funded to assist workers who have lost their jobs.
“That fund would become available to you so you can continue to live. This is what we are talking about when we speak about a package of care and a worker’s agenda,” Liburd explained.
The National Health Scheme will also be introduced to the federation and will assist residents who are on minimum wage and social assistance.
“On the first phase we will look at those persons who are on the social assistance programme and persons on minimum wage who have no health insurance. We know that your health is important and we know that health costs are astronomical and so we have to make sure we have a healthy productive workforce and that is why we are introducing this in the first phase.”
The Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas echoed similar sentiments on the topic of minimum wage for citizens of the federation.