Jamaica’s Private Sector Should Follow Amazon’s Lead

By Alphanso Gomez

Hats off to Amazon!

Now, there’s an example of big business putting people before profits. The global retail giant announced this week that it has decided to double the minimum wage of its employees.

Workers in the American operations will see a 100 per cent increase in their hourly wages from $7.50 to $15.00. Workers in the United Kingdom will see similar percentage increases as well and Amazon has gone even further; they have challenged their competitors to do the same.

This is a fine example of good corporate leadership. The Boardroom has recognized that there is far greater value in having comfortable and committed employees than financially frustrated and disenchanted ones, who end up offering poor customer service because their personal bottom lines just do not add up.

In short order, time and the figures will tell whether this was a master stroke by Amazon or a calculated risk which could ultimately backfire. Public sentiment towards the move suggests that Amazon has pulled another ace on their competitors. People will be feeling far more justified in their spending with the company, knowing that the hard working employees are the ones who will ultimately benefit.

Corporate Jamaica could learn a lot from Amazon’s example. Reality is, government is the largest employer in Jamaica and it is the government that sets the minimum wage and guidelines.

Following a rate increase in August, Jamaica’s minimum wage at the lowest point is now J$7,000 per week so at the base an employee may take home $28,000 per month, just over US$200. In today’s economic climate, that is well below the poverty line and cannot be considered a livable wage, in a country where a relatively small percentage of the population live in great excess.

The minimum wage is merely a guideline set by the government. It is minimum protection for workers and employers should see themselves as benefactors, as in the case of Amazon and pay workers more where it is earned and the financial realities make it possible.

If the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, the Jamaica Manufacturers Association and other industrial and corporate bodies were to band together and place the interest of their workers foremost in their operations, they would be able to force the government’s hand in increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage. This would force reluctant private companies to improve their act and give their workers a better deal.

This would be a win-win situation all around. Companies would benefit from happier employees while government would see a concomitant increase in productivity, which would be beneficial to the country’s overall economic goals.

In developed countries, the United Kingdom for example, an unemployed person who receives state benefits gets no less than 70 pounds (J$12,209) per week, in addition to free housing, free healthcare, education and are eligible for a raft of other means-tested doles.

Jamaica has a long way to go and even as the country continues to make impressive strides in attaining macro-economic stability, it is important that no one is left behind. It is therefore imperative that the government responds to the urgent needs of the working class and private sector benefactors have a great opportunity to force its hand by following Amazon’s lead. A more prosperous workforce equals a more productive, peaceful and prosperous Jamaica.

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