Minimum Wage

March 1st, 2010
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v8-3-Our IslandsIt was only about a year ago that ex-president Manuel Zelaya raised the minimum wage in Honduras. At the time, a great hullabaloo was raised by the private sector and with particular notice in the medium and small businesses. It was said that the increase would cripple smaller concerns and would cause huge layoffs in the bigger companies. And some of this did happen but not to the extent that is claimed by the non-government labor watchers.

Just the idea of the government arbitrarily imposing such a heavy load on the business community made my heart hurt for them. But I am no longer sympathetic towards those people.

After some investigation I have come to the conclusion that those poor suffering businesses are getting the job done with fewer workers but at a terrible cost to their employees. This is true for all businesses but it especially applies to service companies like fast food, pharmacies and photo shops and others that are people to people services.

In mostly all the businesses I checked, the employees worked as many as ten hours a day for at least six days a week. Add it up, that’s 60 hours a week and in some cases the employees work as many as 66 hours a week with no compensation. Some employers do not allow their employees time for their midday meal. As one supervisor put it “Nobody needs to sit down to eat.”

The private sector is taking advantage of the very lax government enforcement of the long established labor laws. A good example is a small business that employed 4 persons but now has only three because of the change in the minimum wage. Previously those 4 employees worked a total of 176 hours a week (the legal limit without extra pay) but now the remaining three workers are on the job a total of 180 and sometimes 198 hours a week. That’s a net gain of 4 to 22 man-hours a week for the company.

The law requires that if an employee’s job can be done efficiently sitting down then the company must provide a seat for that purpose but since the wage increase almost all employers have removed all furniture from their places of business and in one particular business the owners even removed the water cooler.

With the exception of the banks many cashiers must stand all the time that they are on the job. The banks however have set precedence for another grave injustice that has now permeated the small businesses of this country. As is done in the banks, the cashiers are debited any amount of money missing from the registers when the books are balanced at the end of the day.

However, if on any day there is a surplus of money the bank or business keeps that money and it is not credited towards the amount owed by the cashier or teller from any previous day’s shortage. When pay day comes around the shortages will be deducted from the pay check of the employee. In some banks if the amount exceeds one thousand lempiras it is posted as a loan and interest is added to the amount of the shortage.

This is robbery and in any other part of the world it would not be tolerated by the employees but with the scarcity of jobs and the great need of the people, the workers grumble to themselves and show up the next day for work, because they know that at least 20 persons will apply for that job should they decide to quit. The bosses know this and this gives them license to become modern day slave drivers with complete disregard for the welfare, dignity and self-esteem of their fellow man. [/private]

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