Deputy Geoff Southern’s proposition, which would have upped the current rate from £8.32 per hour by the end of next year, was lost by 25 votes to 20 during this week’s sitting.
Introducing the proposition, he said: ‘People cannot make ends meet. This is an opportunity to do something.’
He referred to the government’s Common Strategic Policy – which sets out government aims for the current term of office – which included within its core aims reducing income inequality and improving wellbeing and the standard of living.
‘I argue we should be backing this up to the hilt, and that is what this proposition does,’ said Deputy Southern. ‘Our average income is high but this hides large gaps between the highest and lowest earners.’
The backbencher lodged his proposition in February.
Social Security Minister Judy Martin announced last week that the government would be carrying out a six-week consultation to review the process for setting and increasing the minimum wage, which she called a ‘meaningful consultation’. Deputy Southern labelled the initiative a ‘wrecking motion’.
Reform Jersey, of which Deputy Southern is a party member, pledged in its 2018 election manifesto to bring forward a minimum-wage proposal.
During the debate, Deputy Scott Wickenden – an Assistant Social Security Minister – said: ‘In 2022 the Island will be recovering from two of the hardest years in recent history. We need to encourage a rapid recovery of our economy. A political commitment to an arbitrary minimum-wage figure with no understanding of the consequences is, in my opinion, the last thing we need to be signing up to just now.’
Senator Sam Mézec, Reform’s political head, highlighted the higher minimum-wage levels in the UK and Guernsey, saying: ‘That ought to be something we find embarrassing and a demonstration we are letting down the lowest earners in Jersey.’ He called the current £8.32-per-hour rate a ‘poverty wage’.
Deputy Mike Higgins said: ‘We are dealing with families who are struggling to survive and relying on food banks.’
Constable John Le Bailly added: ‘Some low-paid businesses always lobby us when the minimum wage is mentioned, because they wish to keep the minimum wage exactly that – minimum.’
Deputy John Young highlighted that the government was subsidising low-income jobs through income support, while Chief Minister John Le Fondré said the issue was about timing. ‘The events of the last 12 months have been extraordinary and of course that will have an impact on plans,’ he said.
Members also rejected Deputy Southern’s amendment not to refer the rise to the Jersey Employment Forum, and to appoint at least two members of the voluntary sector ‘with an interest in the alleviation of poverty’ to the forum.
Deputy Martin said the forum played an important role in establishing and maintaining the minimum wage.
‘I am not arguing against an increase in the minimum wage,’ she said. ‘We need to give businesses time to get there.’
Members did vote in favour of the forum examining the feasibility of setting Jersey’s minimum wage at the level of the Island’s living wage, which is currently £10.96, by 24 votes to 20.