The Painful Truth About Earning More than $26.25 an hour

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” Confucius once said.

If only life was that simple… We all need to live and in order to live, the vast majority of us need jobs to be able to put bread on the table.

The rich history of Trinidad and Tobago is replete with the hard work of our people in bringing about crucial legislative safeguards for workers against abuse and oppression.

The Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 88:01; the Workmen’s Compensation Act, Chapter 88:05; the Maternity Protection Act, Chapter 45:57; and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Chapter 88:08 are just a few of our statutory achievements on the road to a satisfactory level of employee protection.

Unfortunately, we are nowhere near where we should be. Indeed, many countries have leapt forward with progressive employee protections laws, leaving us woefully lagging behind.

I speak in the context of all those employed persons out there today who earn more per hour than 1.5 times the minimum wage. Here, I am not discussing those who have the benefit of unions, collective agreements and those who are protected by specific laws governing their jobs e.g. security industry employees.

Employees frequently complain bitterly about unfair treatment in the workplace. Common questions arise over sick leave and vacation leave entitlements, working overtime without compensation, being contacted by the office after hours, constant threats of dismissal as a means to prevent the worker from asking for a raise or getting additional benefits and requests to accept reduced pay due to cries of decreased profits.

To underscore the point once more, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of local employees who earn more per hour than 1.5 times the minimum wage have no statutory protections on many of those employment issues.

Let me break that down.

Statutory protections refer to written laws of the land. There is no better way to protect our rights than to have those rights enshrined in our lawbooks.

As of December 1, 2019, our minimum wage stood at $17.50 per hour. By my calculation, one and a half times that wage amounts to $26.25.

If you belong to that category of workers of which I am discussing today, who earns more than $26.26 per hour, there is no written law that requires your employer to, for instance:

  1. Reduce the terms of your employment into a written and signed contract;
  2. Give you vacation leave or sick leave, or how much;
  3. Protect your personal time after hours by regulating if and when they can contact you;
  4. Pay you for overtime worked by regulating how many hours there are in a normal working day/week/month; and
  5. Give you a minimum fixed amount of time each day for lunch and rest/mental health breaks.

On the flipside, if you do earn $26.25 per hour or less, the Minimum Wages Act, Chapter 88:04 has got you covered on a few of those important issues. For example:

  1. A normal working day is no more than 8 hours, excluding meal and rest breaks. A normal work week is no more than 40 hours, excluding meal and rest breaks. A normal work month is no more than 173 hours (rounded off), excluding meal and rest breaks. Overtime has to be paid if your employer makes you work in excess of that.

      2. You are entitled to a lunch break of at least 45 minutes, no more than 4.5 hours from the time of you are to start your work day. After a further 3 hours, you are entitled to a 15-minute break.

The bright side though is that many employers do try to do the right thing and afford their employees contractually agreed rights, perks and benefits, including vacation and sick leave, health insurance, pensions, commissions, bonuses etc. Many of these are built up around what passes for the industry standards and/or practices at the time. It’s not perfect, but it’s still something.

An important take away from all of this is that if you are one of those workers who will earn more than $26.26 per hour, try to get the terms of your employment put into writing and signed by you and your employer. If it’s within your power, go even further and make sure the employment contract you sign is clear, and covers absolutely everything that was discussed and agreed and which triggered your decision to accept the job. Your rights would then be protected under contract law, and ultimately, by the courts of the land.

© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C  is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.


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