Chamber: Minimum wage increase compounds coronavirus cancellation damage

Guam Chamber of Commerce President Catherine Castro and Chamber Chairwoman Christine Baleto share their thoughts on the minimum wage increase.

In the face of a double blow to the island’s economy from the ongoing coronavirus cancellations and an increase in the minimum wage this weekend, the Guam Chamber of Commerce is appealing for a comprehensive plan to offset the economic damage.

About 3,500 workers will get a pay raise starting Sunday when the minimum hourly wage on Guam rises 50 cents from $8.25 to $8.75.

A number of local businesses have already raised prices to compensate for the new minimum wage.

At the same time, the customer base is shrinking and the signs are clearly visible in Tumon where the number of tourists is dwindling.

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Christine Baleto, the chairwoman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce is concerned.

“We already have the minimum wage going into effect which is already going to increase the cost that these business owners have to incur. And then we expect further reductions in the tourism numbers in March. We’re seeing the media reports of cancellations of up to 20,000 I believe. And then in April, they’re saying no new bookings. We see the news coverage around the world that travel is being restricted. So it kind of looks bleak,” Baleto said.

Appeals to the governor and the legislature to postpone the wage increase have been rejected, with the governor this week suggesting that some Chamber members view their employees as an overhead expense.

However, the onset of coronavirus cancellations has pushed the problem beyond the minimum wage issue, responds Chamber President Catherine Castro, stressing that it’s now about saving jobs.

“We respect the governor’s decision, but we respectfully disagree. What we would like to do is have dialogue with the administration and have dialogue with the legislature,” Castro said.

She added: “We have heard from employees, they’re calling our office. They’ve called GVB and GVB is telling them to call the Chamber. And they’re saying … can you please … we’re concerned about our jobs. We’re looking at lower working hours, reduced hours. What’s the next step after the reduced hours? Are they going to take away my insurance? These are real concerns of real people.”

Baleto said business owners are struggling to keep employees on as much as possible.

“You know we need to continue to fight to make it easier on businesses so like Cathy said, we’ve offered some solutions. Those solutions were not acceptable to either the legislature or the administration so what solutions can we come together and talk about? Can we have a package to at least roll back for tourism-related tourist businesses that are feeling the effects now. No question in your mind that we do need some sort of solution? We need some solution,” Baleto said.