NASSAU, BAHAMAS — With gasoline prices hovering at well over $6 per gallon in The Bahamas, Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) President Kimsley Ferguson said yesterday that the average worker in the country now spends more on a gallon of gas to get to work than the $5.25 they make per hour.
“The price of fuel exceeds minimum wage,” Ferguson said at the BPSU’s headquarters.
“The worker, if he had to choose, to survive or get to work, he may be able to get to work, but he won’t be able to survive. And so, that places us in a very precarious position where something has to be disqualified in my life as a person making minimum wage in order for me to survive.”
The minimum wage in The Bahamas is $210 per week.
In the Speech from the Throne, the Davis administration pledged to increase the minimum wage and phase it into a livable wage.
At the BPSU’s headquarters, Ferguson said the union received a proposal from the government on a phased increase in the minimum wage that would eventually result in $13,000 annually or $250 per week.
The union president said the figure did not amount to a wage that Bahamians “could survive on” and was “total rubbish”, particularly as Bahamian families make the difficult decisions on whether to pay bills or purchase groceries.
“Too many people today are actually having to make a decision on whether the rent is going to be paid or whether their children are going to be able to eat,” Ferguson said.
“That is not a very good position for any provider to be in. It is deficient to a great extent when we find ourselves in that position as a country where family members have to make such choices, and so we are very, very concerned that we have been hearing a lot of excuses. It is not acceptable from where we sit.”
Ferguson said that compounded with inflation, valued-added tax on breadbasket items and high levels of unemployment, families have to make tough decisions between paying a bill and putting food on the table.
He suggested the government and prime minister was becoming out of touch with the challenges of Bahamians and those it promised to assist upon coming to office.
Ferguson said as workers’ spending power shrinks it is more critical for the government to find the means to raise minimum wage and honor the outstanding funds owed to many of the unions.
“The government, prior to the general election, made some agreements and signed some memorandum of understandings with trade unions; that they would honor the outstanding concerns that trade unions would have had.
“While the government should have been given an opportunity to find out what the position of the country is and I think that they’ve been afforded sufficient of an opportunity to do so, we need now to see responses in relation to longstanding concerns related to disputes unions would have had with the various employers.
“And so, we are very concerned and unions and workers of this country are watching what is going to happen moving forward.”
He said the union is charged with the responsibility of looking out for the best interest of the workers it represents, but “I am not so certain successive administrations would have had the same view”.
“Report cards are normally done quarterly, I think we’re at the halfway mark and so, there needs to be a determination as to what is going to happen moving forward before report car day.”