US Virgin Islands prepares for minimum wage increase

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, Virgin Islands – The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands announced Wednesday that it will soon increase the minimum wage to $8.35 an hour.

Labour Commissioner Catherine Hendry said the increase will be effective June 21. Another increase to $9.50 is scheduled for June 2017 and a final increase to $10.50 is slated for June 2018. The U.S. territory’s current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Hendry says tourist service employees and restaurant workers are exempt from the increases.

Legislators last year pushed for the increase despite concerns it might force some local businesses to close because of the weak economy. Supporters argued that the minimum wage has not kept up with cost of living increases.

The increase comes as the U.S. Congress considers whether to allow neighbouring Puerto Rico to lower its minimum wage for workers younger than 25 in hopes that will help create more jobs amid a dire economic crisis. Puerto Rico’s minimum wage varies from $5.08 to $7.25 an hour. The island is struggling to emerge from a decade-long economic crisis and its government has a $70 billion public debt that the governor says is unpayable and needs restructuring.