Thompson tackles poverty

POSTED: 01/16/13 1:10 PM

St. Maarten – Theophilus Thompson, the president of the Windward Islands Chamber of Labor Unions showed up at with two bottles of washing up liquid at the union’s weekly press conference. One bottle contained 14 and the other 10 fluid ounces. “The small bottle costs 3.96 guilders ($2.21) and the large bottle 3.60 ($2.01),” Thompson said. “Why should people pay more for less?”

Thompson used the example to make a point about the fight against poverty. “It is the government’s obligation and commitment to fight against poverty,” the union-leader said. But at the moment the cost of living is outpacing people’s income by a large margin.”

Thompson said that the increase of the minimum wage should be done in consultation with businesses and consumers – the workers.

“In 2006, when the minimum wage was increased for the last time there was consultation. Businesses made commitments that stabilized the spending power of consumers.”

Without those commitments, Thompson noted, wage-increases will lead to price increases – the well known wage-price spiral. The union-leader said that there should be some sort of price control.
Currently, the government publishes once a month the prices of a group of 25 different products that are on offer. The publication gives consumers an insight in the prices for the same products at ten different supermarkets.

A comparison of ten random products from these publications between January and December of last year shows for instance that in the high-end range for a kilo of chicken prices increased by 57.2 percent, prices for a kilo of ground beef went up 20.4 percent, for a kilo of oxtail 20.8 percent and for a kilo of tomatoes 26.2 percent. Only prices for drumsticks and spare ribs remained flat.

On the low end, tomato-prices went up 94.9 percent: in January the cheapest kilo of tomatoes on offer cost 2.95 guilders; in December the price had gone up to 5.75 guilders.

At the same time, keen shoppers have option, because prices for similar products vary enormously between supermarkets. In January for instance the price difference between the cheapest and the most expensive kilo of ground beef was 39.7 percent and the difference between the cheapest and the most expensive tomatoes was 50.8 percent.

In December the situation had not changed all that much. The cheapest spare ribs were 8.35 guilders per kilo, the most expensive 14.31 – a difference of 41.6 percent. The cheapest whole chicken was 7.49 per kilo, the most expensive one 12.51. The narrowest margin we found was in the price of chicken legs (15.9 percent), and the widest margin was in the price of onions: 49.5 percent.

Thompson said yesterday that the unions are tackling all areas that affect poverty levels. “We are also looking at employment agencies. The way people are employed there, they are creating more poverty. When people are not employed full-time and when they are not getting paid properly poverty increases. I do not understand why employment agencies are allowed to continue with their practices.”

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