There are many beautiful young couples who are in love and who wish to settle down. But for most of them it is very expensive to even begin to live together, because they would need to furnish a home, and this is unaffordable for low income workers.
It is very costly to start a family these days. The cost of furniture and basic household appliances is beyond the reach of the average worker, even with the prevalence of hire purchase plans.
The cost of a decent suite for your home can range from between US$750 to US$2000. The cost of a good dining table starts from US$500. The cost of a refrigerator exceeds US$750. A good stove costs just as much. A decent television set can add US$500 to your tab. The cost of a good bed is around US$800. These purchases really add up to a sum which is beyond the average worker.
So how does one expect a public servant earning US$300 per month to be able to afford to purchase these items, even if his partner works for the same sum? How does one expect a household in which the combined monthly income is around US$600 to start a family? How can they purchase their own home and still afford to live on the salaries?
Guyana will soon become an oil-producing nation. The economy will grow, but will wages grow in tandem with the growth in the economy? Or will workers be again left behind when the time comes to distribute the oil wealth.
There is no shortage of suggestions as to how the oil wealth will be distributed. But no one has yet suggested that the first priority should be to pay workers a living wage.
More than five thousand workers are now on the breadline as a result of the closure of sugar estates. Their families are enduring extreme hardships because it is not easy to find a job in Guyana when you are a cane harvester. And so there is a crisis facing many workers.
Young people need to be encouraged to start their families at a young age. Too many young people are marrying too late, which means by the time they climb the corporate ladder and are in a firm financial position, they have little set aside for their retirement.
But how will young workers start a family when the cost of furniture and household appliances is so high? This is the question which workers need to ask their unions to press home this coming week when they observe May Day.
It is sad to see the celebration of workers’ day being reduced to a ‘sport’ in which workers assemble for drinks and food, unmindful that even today the cost of starting a family is still beyond the means of the average worker.
If a living wage cannot be paid immediately, then at least a living wage can be calculated and a plan devised as to how wage increases will be applied to converge to this living wage. It is an issue which can no longer be delayed.
With oil on the horizon, what will be the excuse now for not paying workers a living wage? Surely, with 500,000 barrels of oil per day being pumped, the least the workers of Guyana deserve is a decent take home pay so that they can afford the basic necessities of a home.
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