Minimum wage overseas lucrative than highly paid local wage

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Men from Pacific Islands cutting leafy green vegetables in a paddock in Queensland.
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BY GEORGINA KEKEA

WORKERS in Solomon Islands receive one of the lowest wages in the world. Since 2008, the minimum wage in Solomon Islands has remained the same.

The current rate is SBD$4 per hour for all workers except those working in the fishing and agricultural sector. They receive SBD$3.20 per hour.

In comparison to other countries, the yearly minimum wage for Solomon Islands is USD$1,005 in International Currency.

International currency is a measure of currency based on the value of the United States dollar in 2009.

With this comparison, Solomon Islands sits in the bottom percent of all countries based on the yearly minimum wage rate.

“There are 99 countries with a higher minimum wage then in Solomon Islands,” Minimum-Wage.org reports.

While workers in Solomon Islands are struggling to cope with the high cost of living, government on the other hand is prioritizing labour mobility as a way to send Solomon Islanders overseas to earn so called, lucrative money.

In Australia, the minimum wage rate is AUD$17.70 per hour, an estimated SBD$100 per hour. This is 25 times greater than the wages earned in Solomon Islands.

In recent interviews with seasonal workers, most alluded that money earned in labour mobility is way better than what they earn working in Solomon Islands.

Men from Pacific Islands cutting leafy green vegetables in a paddock in Queensland.

While the focus for labour mobility scheme is on unemployed youths, in some cases, skilled workers including professionals also left their job to sign up for the seasonal workers scheme.

“I go to school, I spent years in education to attain a diploma or degree in my profession, I come back to serve my country, earning less than SBD$2000 a fortnight, who wouldn’t want to go to Australia or New Zealand to earn more in their minimum wage than what we are earning in ours,” a professional employee in Solomon Islands say.

Even the Prime Minister attributed the fact that seasonal workers are being paid more than him and there is nothing much the government can do about this scenario.

He said this is not in government’s best interest yet as they are currently focusing on the labour mobility schemes.

“Let’s do one thing at a time. You can’t try and do everything at a time. Otherwise you’ll clog it out,” Hou said in response to a question raised by Island Sun during a Press Conference on the Labour Mobility scheme.

Prime Minister Rick Hou in the recent Pacific Labour Mobility Meeting revealed that he wants government to send at least 10,000 youths overseas within the next 10 years.

He said population in Solomon Islands is at a 2.6 percent growth rate and the economy is not producing job opportunities for the unemployed thus it is important government address this issue now by sending workers overseas as labourers.

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Meanwhile, the employed and professionals in Solomon Islands are said to be the ones left behind in the labour market.

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) speaks of leaving no-one behind, with SDG 8 promoting productive employment and decent work for all, the future seems brighter for those toiling the fields in foreign countries, than educated professionals in their own country.

Contrary to what the PM said, Commerce Minister, William Marau says, his Ministry is aware of the need for the increase in wages and salary and decent employment for workers in Solomon Islands.

He said since the beginning of 2018, consultations are being carried out with major industries to get feedback from the organizations because it will impact greatly on their businesses.

“Slowly and surely, we are getting there,” he said.

At the same time, Unionist, David Tuhanuku says it is a bad reflection of the government to forgo the minimum wage increase for 10 years now.

He said the issue of legal minimum wage should be addressed by government through the Labour department with relevant institutions like trade union movements involved in the process.

He said in the course of 10 years, cost of living has changed and government through the labour department should have addressed this issue already.

“All I can say, if the labour department embark on this now, the trade union movements will then be able to participate in this process,” Tuhanuku said.

He said legal minimum wage is important as it set the basis for worker’s wages.

He said it is very important government reviews this, particularly for the low paid workers.

Tuhanuku is the President of Solomon Islands Council of Trade Union (SICTU) as well as President of the Workers Union of Solomon Islands (WUSI). His Associations had been vocal in labour rights issues for many years including admonition of the tax free awards for MPs in 2016.

For likeminded workers in Solomon Islands, Minimum Wage is the lowest amount a worker can be legally paid for his or her work.

No worker in Solomon Islands can be paid less then this mandatory minimum rate of pay. Employers in Solomon Islands who fail to pay the Minimum Wage may be subject to punishment by Solomon Islands’ government.

Currently it is understood that a proposed Minimum wage policy is said to be in the making.

The minimum wage policy will set the framework for minimum wage in Solomon Islands.

Furthermore SBD$8 is said to be the proposed minimum wage under review.

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