BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 3, 2017–For Belizean workers living on the minimum wage, it’s been five long years since there has been an adjustment, and recently a group of activists which includes Moses Sulph and others, held a small protest to raise awareness about the issue.
Speaking on the adjournment of the House of Representatives meeting on Friday, June 30, Lake Independence representative Cordel Hyde lent his voice to the call for an adjustment to the minimum wage, citing that, “For the almost 60,000 Belizeans who are making just $3.30 per hour, this is no laughing matter.”
Hyde said that “…when you get down to the bottom of it, this issue of a minimum wage that is below a living wage, means early and premature deaths for a lot of people, because the truth of the matter is a lot of people who are on minimum wage can’t really afford to buy healthy food, and so they end up eating and having a lifestyle that is unhealthy, that leads to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol, cancer and the list goes on.”
He said that every year, hundreds upon hundreds of Belizeans die from these diseases, and oftentimes they are in their 40’s and early 50’s, adding that “…we should check the profile of these people who are dying needlessly every year and see what is their income – if they have any – and I think that would tell a very serious picture.”
Hyde chronicled the challenges that the minimum wage earners faced in trying to obtain decent and adequate housing, pointedly revealing that after paying sometimes as much as $75 a week for a room out of a $140 weekly salary, not much else is left to be spent on “food, clothing, transportation, education, babysitting, utilities and God forbid one of their children becomes sick and requires urgent medical attention.”
“The reality is too many of our people are working full-time but they are still living in poverty. This is a rich country; this should not be happening,” declared the PUP deputy leader.
He cautioned that, “They will say that if you raise the minimum wage, businesses will close down and you will lose jobs.” But he countered that’s a false argument since the last raise in the minimum wage in May of 2012 was for a mere 20 cents per hour, from $3.10 to $3.30, only costing business owners an additional $1.60 per day or a mere $8 per week.
“The truth is, Madam Speaker, what would a real living wage cost business owners,” asked Hyde. “One less weekend trip to Miami per year, one less night of eating out per month, perhaps using their late model SUV just a little longer before changing, or less oriental rugs or French water or costly food from the farthest expanses of the world?”
Hyde lamented that in these matters it’s the businesspersons who have voice; they are the ones who are consulted, but “no one talks to the single mother with three children who is working her tail off each day but still can’t send her smart daughter to SCA because there’s no way she can afford to pay the $1000 a year tuition. No one talks to the security guard, or the store clerks, or the hotel workers. No one talks to them, and no one talks for them.”
He chided the government for only paying lip service to the poor, and went further to declare that they want to keep the masses poor so they can control them, explaining that after blowing $400 million of Petrocaribe funds, $600 million in oil revenue from BNE, and over a billion dollars in new loans, there are more poor people in Belize today than when the UDP first took over in 2008.
Hyde concluded that government should study the problem but not take too long, and make sure they talk to the janitors, the security officers, the hotel workers and waitresses who are labouring under this minimum wage regime, adding that in the words of Pope Francis, “the poor have been waiting for too long already.”