By Catherine Ramnarine
With effect from 1st January 2024 the national minimum hourly wage in Trinidad and Tobago (exclusive of gratuities, service charges and commissions) was increased from TTD17.50 to TTD20.50. In this Article, we will discuss the legislative and regulatory framework governing the minimum wage in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the obligations that it creates for employers.
Legislative and Regulatory Framework:
Minimum wages in Trinidad and Tobago are governed by the Minimum Wages Act and the several Minimum Wages Orders that have been made under the Act.
The national minimum wage and the terms and conditions generally applicable to all minimum wage workers are outlined in the Minimum Wages Order 2014, as amended by the Minimum Wages Order 2023.
There are also industry specific Orders governing (i) security industry employees (ii) catering industry employees (ii) shop assistants (iii) household assistants and (iv) petrol filling station employees. These industry specific Orders were amended by the 2014 Order. However, they still contain provisions that are applicable to employees in those specific industries.
Compliance with the Minimum Wages Act and Orders is monitored and enforced by the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Inspectorate Unit. Breaches of the Act and Orders are subject to the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court and are punishable by fine.
Applicability of the National Minimum Wage:
The national minimum wage applies to all “workers” as defined under the Minimum Wages Act. This definition is broad and includes all persons, “in receipt of earnings from an employer in respect of employment”.
The national minimum wage does not apply to (a) trainees in training schools approved by appropriate government agencies such YTEPP and the NESC (b) schemes developed from time to time by other government ministries, departments or agencies (c) other schemes submitted to and approved by the ministry of labor (d) registered apprentices (e) students on vacation jobs or (f) persons who volunteer services to registered charitable organizations and social service agencies.
It does generally apply to all other employees in Trinidad and Tobago, including migrant workers.
The National Minimum Wage:
The current national minimum wage is TTD20.50 per hour, or:
- TTD164.00 daily using an 8 hour work day
- TTD820.00 weekly, using a 40 hour work week
- TTD3,5533.00 monthly, using a working month of 173.3334 hours
Other Terms and Conditions Governed by Minimum Wages Legislation:
In addition to setting the national minimum wage, the Act and Orders also prescribe other terms and conditions of employment that are mandatory for all workers earning up to 1.5 times the national minimum wage i.e. up to TTD30.70 per hour or TTD5330.00 per month.
In particular, the Act and Orders prescribe:
- The “normal” hours of work i.e. 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week and 173.3334 hours per month, exclusive of meal and rest breaks
- The overtime rates that must be paid for work done beyond the normal hours of work, including work on public holidays; and
- Meal and rest breaks.
Additionally, the industry specific Orders governing employees in the catering industry, shop assistants and household assistants contain express provisions governing vacation and sick leave for those employees.
Changing an Employee’s Existing Terms and Conditions:
A popular local retail chain recently attracted attention when it sought to offset the increase in its wage bill resulting from the rise in the national minimum wage by eliminating paid meal and rest breaks for employees with less than four years’ service. The company reversed its decision after public outcry.
Notably, the Minimum Wages 2014 Order expressly provides that it is not to be construed as authorising (i) the reduction of wages paid to employees who already receive wages in excess of the minimum wage or (ii) changes to the existing terms and conditions of any worker to effect a lowering of such terms and conditions.
As a general rule, an employee’s terms and conditions of employment can only be varied by mutual agreement between both employer and employee. Where an employer attempts to unilaterally vary an essential or material term of employment, such as one impacting that employee’s basic remuneration, this amounts to what is known as a “repudiatory breach” of the employment contract, entitling the employee to claim constructive dismissal.
The employer of every worker to whom a Minimum Wages Order applies is mandated under the Act to keep and maintain such records in respect of that worker as may be necessary to demonstrate compliance. This includes, for example, time sheets and pay slips. These records are subject to inspection by the Labour Inspectorate Unit without notice.
As illustrated above, minimum wages legislation in Trinidad and Tobago governs more than just the national minimum hourly wage rate. They also contain other important obligations that employers should be mindful of.
Catherine Ramnarine is a Partner at M. Hamel-Smith & Co. She can be reached at email@example.com
Disclaimer: This Column contains general information on legal topics and does not constitute legal advice