Workers’ Salaries: Misplaced Comparisons

Lincoln Depradine

by Lincoln Depradine

Just before Christmas, and heading into the holidays, I was enthralled by the swirling debate that erupted over a 2016 $1,000-a-month salary increase that has been allotted to Lakisha Grant, press secretary to Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.

In many private conversations — such as at the barbershop and over lunch with friends — I was asked about my opinion on the matter. And, I’m going to say here publicly what I’ve articulated privately.

The issue has several dimensions; one of them is the political. In our non-stop election campaign cycles, activists on all sides are ever alert for opportunities to exploit the real or perceived faults, mistakes, missteps and mishaps of their opponents. And for a sitting government, the second best targets after ministers are political appointees like press secretaries, who are politically exposed persons. (Did I just write that overused and misused word, “persons’’? I can’t believe myself).

The argument has been made by those who oppose Grant’s salary rise — and, truth be told, dislike the prime minister, his party and government — that it is plain wrong to provide the increase to Grant, when most other public servants are under a wage freeze as part of the economic structural adjustment program (SAP). On the surface, the argument sounds laudable. My instinctive reaction is that in a political sense, the timing of the increase leaves the door open for a whole lot of political flack.

However, I’m convinced that even if there was no SAP, and the Grenada economy was booming, opponents of the prime minister, his party and government, would have found a way to criticize the increase to the politically exposed Grant; it’s simply politics. And, I disagree that the main target of the attack of the salary increase is Grant. Indeed, some have directed crude and sexist comments at her. But, by and large, I suspect she’s just been collateral damage in fire aimed principally at Dr Mitchell, the prime minister and leader of the ruling New National Party.

But what I consider most disturbing is the attitude of too many Grenadians to salaries, wages and pay increases. Salaries and wages in Grenada are abysmally low; and, as I have said to many friends, I’m prepared to join any efforts that would lead to across-the-board increases. Until then, I would encourage public commentators — especially political commentators and activists — to avoid misleading people about wages, and instead concentrate on embarking on a campaign that would speak to the relationship between education and career choices.

Too often, one gets the sense that many Grenadians consider a salary of more than $1,000 to be a “big’’ salary; or, as US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would say, consider it to be “huge’’. Anyone in Grenada earning above $1,000 — and let it be known that he or she is getting a pay rise — frequently is subjected to negative comments, even jealous comments; snide remarks that the rise is unfair, wrong, unwarranted. And, there are comparisons with workers in other sectors who are not earning as much or not getting a raise. Invariably, the comparisons and complaints are misplaced and uninformed.

Generally, in the real world of work, there is a correlation between one’s earning power and one’s education, training, qualification and experience. It’s the reason why so many people stay in school and determine to attend university to pursue a career in aerospace engineering or cardiac surgery, for example. No one should expect the airline steward to be paid at the same level as the aerospace engineer, or the hospital’s telephone operator to be compensated as much as the cardiac surgeon.

We do an injustice to the Grenadian people when we suggest that because some workers do not earn $1,000 per month, no other worker — irrespective of their job, level of responsibility, education and experience — should earn $1,000 or be given pay increase of any kind or at any time. One may empathize with the single parent working as a clerk at a department store in Grenville or St George’s. But, nothing says the clerk is entitled to an increase in salary just because one is given to the instructor at St George’s University or T A Marryshow Community College.

It’ll be infinitely more useful if we redouble our efforts to encouraging our youth to remain in school and to carefully ponder their career choices; and explain that employees in lower-paying wage brackets would do well to consider moving to higher brackets through further education and/or retraining. It’s not easy but it’s doable; there are living examples.

Now, having said that, my own advice to anyone — younger or older — is to steer clear of certain jobs; avoid them as you would avoid the plague or AIDS or Chikungunya or Ebola. And, I make these recommendations with all due respect to my dear friends Ray Roberts, Rawle Titus, Selwyn Noel, Richard Simon, Lakisha Grant and Jenifer Woodroofe.

Jobs to avoid in Grenada include press secretary, director of the Government Information Service and chief executive officer of the Spicemas Corporation.

Oh, and prime minister of Grenada as well.

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