Response to Antigua News Room Article entitled “PM lashes back at Yves Ephraim…over Minimum Wage Implementation”

When I first read the statements attributed to the Hon. Prime Minister in response to the Chamber’s press release, I thought to myself, truly, anyone reading our press release issued on the 27th of January, 2023 would have recognized that the Hon. Prime Minister’s response bore no relevance to our statement, thereby not warranting a response.

As the days progressed, it became apparent that many people who heard the Hon. Prime Minister did not see the Chamber’s press release and therefore could not properly weigh the facts.

Having spoken to many individuals who were genuinely convinced that the Hon. Prime Minister was telling the WHOLE truth about my involvement on the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, I thought it necessary to lay out the facts of the matter, which are easily verifiable by reports and correspondence from the Labour Department dated 26th January 2023.

Being mindful that untruths left lingering unchallenged in the minds of hearers can easily become de facto truths, I have decided to respond in the defense of the good name of the Chamber.

I am responding here for the benefit of those who wish to know the truth. All of what I plan to say are already in the public domain and verifiable.

First of all and to make it abundantly clear, my statement issued on the 27th January 2023, had in NO WAY objected to the increase in the minimum wage as the Hon. Prime Minister would have many believe. The four points in my statement were directed specifically at the timing and the manner in which the order was implemented. The Hon. Prime Minister should have taken note that I began my press release by saying: “The Chamber wishes to voice its utmost displeasure with the TIMING AND MANNER with which the Minister responsible has issued such notice.” This was and remains the theme of the press release.

What the Hon. Prime Minister failed to tell his audience is that on the Thursday, 26th of January (the day before payday), the labour department issued for the first time, a public missive informing affected employers that the Minister had ordered an increase of the minimum wage to $9.00. The notice further warned all employers that failure to implement the minimum wage as ordered, was an offence.

I consider it disingenuous for the Hon. Prime Minister to give the impression that being simply aware of an imminent increase of the minimum wage carries the same weight in law as actually issuing the written order. If simple awareness was all that was needed, then why waste the time to issue an order? Just let employers voluntarily implement the $9.00 per hour.

The reader must appreciate that if affected employers were willing to pay $9.00 per hour, then they would have voluntarily done so since November,2022 when the new rate was announced. Why wait till January? The simple fact remains that if no order is issued, there will be no legal obligation for any employer to comply.

I do agree with the Hon. Prime Minister that it was well known since the 23rd of November, 2022 that a decision was made on the matter of the minimum wage. So why did it take this long to issue the order?

Instead of admitting that the ball was dropped by the administration regarding the timely issuance of the order, there is an attempt to use doublespeak to gloss over the injustice of the retroactivity. This was indeed the crux of my displeasure. Instead of accepting that it was unreasonable to make an order in retrospect, which violated the spirit of cooperation, the administration just dug in further to justify its Orwellian actions.

In my opinion, failure is being shrouded in deceit to give the impression that the order was actually executed prior to the start of the year when it was promised. To save face, a decision was made to unjustly issue the order retroactively. The Labour Department’s notice makes it clear that the order was issued in 2023 and not before.

I am really tired of seeing failure glamorized, glorified and justified! How can our nation improve and become an economic power house if no one wants to admit failure so that improvements can be made. It is quite frustrating trying to pursue excellence when our leaders’ behavior actually encourage mediocrity.

I would not have mind so much if the implementation date was set for the 1st of February, but the sheer dishonesty to cover this gross failure by issuing a retroactive order was the last straw for me. The very act of issuing the order retroactively and communicating that on the eve of the first payday of the order coming into force, instantly turned innocent employers into law breakers. That is the angst, to which I referred.

It occurred to me that the Minister was willing to throw innocent employers under the proverbial bus in order to deflect attention from his blunder. Perhaps, if Government employees were affected by this change, more care might have been exercised.

Making this order retroactive on the eve of the first payday, I maintain, was callous and uncaring. The minister took no accountability for this failure but instead acted in a way that would make employers appear as the bad guys.

I completely repudiate any attempt by the Hon. Prime Minister to misrepresent me by suggesting that I was somehow trying to “undermine the process and to encourage discontent”. My issue is the throwing of employers under the bus by immediately putting them in a position where they cannot avoid breaking the law. This is my issue and nothing else. I really thought that in sheer respect for law and order, our Attorney General would have known better.

Even though I did NOT raise any objection to the increase in the minimum wage, I feel inclined to address the Hon. Prime Minister’s statement where he was quoted as saying: “he [Yves Ephraim] agreed and recommended $9.00 minimum wage to the Cabinet for adoption to be implemented on Jan 1, 2023”.

I would like to remind the Hon. Prime Minister that the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee actually proposed and recommended $8.90 per hour, as can be verified by the written report handed to his Minister. Perhaps when the Hon. Prime Minister took his sudden mercurial flight out of the Cabinet meeting which brought the meeting to an abrupt end, his remaining Ministers might have decided to increase our proposal to $9.00, without telling him. I can see no other plausible explanation for the Hon. Prime Minister getting this detail so wrong.

The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee learnt of the $9.00 like everyone else did, either on the radio or the newspapers, a day later. I fail to see how the Hon. Prime Minister could rightfully assert that I agreed to and proposed $9.00, when $8.90 was what we proposed.

The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee was ejected from the Cabinet meeting before the decision on $9.00 was made. We had no part in those deliberations.

The last time I checked, proposing $8.90 is not the same as $9.00. Is the Hon. Prime Minister in some convoluted way suggesting that $8.90 is the same as $9.00?

I suggest that the Hon. Prime Minister go back and have a look at the Minimum Wage Advisor Committee’s reports. He clearly has a lot on his mind lately, so I will excuse his lapse in memory.

Again for the record, I never objected to the $9.00 as the Hon. Prime Minister would want many to believe. However suggesting that I openly agreed to and proposed $9.00 is not factual.

I really debated myself as to whether I should even respond to this unfounded statement by the Hon. Prime Minister where he purportedly suggested that by not commenting on the UPP’s promise of $10.25 per hour minimum wage was somewhat hypocritical.

I find it very unfortunate that the Hon. Prime Minister would seek to deflect attention from the implementation fiasco by going for such a low blow.

The reason why the Chamber did not see it fit to comment on anything the UPP said, was for the simple reason that the UPP is not the sitting government.

Unless the Hon. Prime Minister was in his own way hinting to us that he believed that the UPP would form the next government, having any discussion with any party that is not in power on the question of the minimum wage would be purely futile.

The Chamber would rather spend the time negotiating with the actual government. Should the UPP eventually take the reigns of power, then we will deal with that matter then. Outside of that, whatever the UPP says is mere wishful thinking.

Hopefully, this matter is now laid to rest.

The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has Acted Immorally!

The government of Antigua and Barbuda has arbitrarily forbidden two out of the three main licensed internet service providers from delivering internet services to consumers through the medium of optical fiber. At the same time, it has invested multimillions in its state-owned-enterprise, APUA Inet, to deploy fiber.

You may say, so what is immoral about that?

Before I start to explain what I regard immoral, let me first define immoral.

The Oxford dictionary defines immoral as: “not conforming to accepted standards of morality”. Some synonyms are unethical, bad, wrongful, wicked, evil and unprincipled.

In this particular context, I wish to convey the meanings of unethical, wicked and unprincipled.

The best way to make you understand the unethical nature of the Government’s decision is expressed in the scenario I describe below.

Let us suppose that you have been pursuing a promotion to the next senior level in your career but in order to achieve that you require completing academic courses that run during working hours.

Let us also suppose that you have a coworker who is pursuing the same career and has the same ambitions as you. You both work in the same department and share the same boss. However, you learned that your department is paying for your coworker’s courses and allowing your coworker time-off with pay to attend the required courses. At the same time when asked, your boss refuses to give you any time-off, and makes it clear that your only choice is quitting your job in order to pursue your academic goals at your own expense.

If you were the employee that was required to quit, how would you feel about the treatment you got?

I would like to suggest that this scenario describes what the government has done to Flow and Digicel.

APUA Inet is the employee who has received the time-off with pay and has its tuition covered by the boss.

Do you think that this behaviour by the boss can be characterised as principled? Is that really fair? This treatment goes beyond favourtism, it is aimed at sabotaging your career!

Would you not immediately think that that unfair treatment was evil and wicked?

To think otherwise would be dishonest, in my opinion.

Let me explain why the situation with the government, Flow/Digicel, and APUA inet is exactly like the scenario I described.

If anyone of you can remember, when internet services were first offered to the public, it was done so via a dialup telephone line. It was slow allowing speeds up to 56kbps. As the last mile technology evolved, we saw higher internet speeds delivered through the use of wireless and DSL technology. Today that next speed improvement comes in the form of optical fiber.

Any internet service provider who is unable to offer fiber connectivity will inevitably go the way of the Dodo bird, particularly if another service provider is able to offer fiber.

This is the exact scenario that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has highhandedly orchestrated. By allowing APUA to deploy fiber exclusively, it has robbed the ability of the other licensed internet service providers, in this case Digicel and Flow, from staying in business in the near future.

By comparison, it is like saying to Flow and Digicel, you are only allowed to provide slow speed dialup internet service while APUA inet can provide high speed DSL service. No consumer in his right mind would buy slow speed internet service from Flow or Digicel when APUA Inet has higher speeds.

It therefore stands that to restrict Flow and Digicel to the slower technologies while APUA Inet is allowed to deliver high speed optical fiber technologies, is tantamount to putting those companies out of business in the long run. This is what I consider most immoral and unethical.

As citizens, we expect our government to be fair and balanced in its dealings with everybody. In this situation, there is no appearance of fairness.

It appears that the government deliberately wants to put Flow and Digicel out of business. Incidentally, Flow and Digicel are significant contributors to the treasury of the government. The minister concerned mentioned that they received over $22M in the last tax cycle.

The lesson you should learn from this, is if your government can treat these large companies like this, what is to say that they would not destroy your small business tomorrow in a similar way.

The government’s handling of this situation is a prime example of where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I call on the government to do what is moral!