Salvadoran government rejects business sector’s minimum wage increase as “mockery" to workers
On June 1, El Salvador’s business-dominated National Minimum Wage Council approved a plan for a gradual wage increase of 15% over the course of three years, which represents a mere $0.20 per day increase for agricultural workers and $0.40 per day for service and commercial workers. Social movement leaders and the Salvadoran government swiftly rejected the plan as insufficient to cover the basic costs of living in the country.
The National Minimum Wage Council, which sets the wage for the private sector, is one of several institutions in El Salvador in which representatives of the business sector, labor unions and the government share decision-making responsibility. Historically, the Council has served the interests of right-wing business leaders, who are represented by the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP). Union leaders from El Salvador’s popular movement have long-questioned the cozy relationship between big business and the unions that serve on the Council, which explains why “labor” would have sided with ANEP’s minimal proposal instead of with the government, which proposed to double the minimum wage in the agricultural sector, from $118 to $250 per month, and bump the monthly wage in urban areas to a universal $300 per month. (For more on El Salvador's current minimum wage, which is the lowest in Central America, see here)
On June 11, President Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party publicly rejected the proposal, opting to send it back to the Council for further analysis. He asserted, “I do not agree with an increase of $0.20 daily, with the rural sector earning $180 a month when the basic food basket is valued at $240. As a government, we cannot support this decision made by the business and labor sectors...”
The President was not the proposal’s only high-profile critic. Labor Minister Sandra Guevara denounced the proposal as “outrageous” and questioned its constitutionality. The Salvadoran Constitution states that all workers have the right to a minimum wage that “covers the total cost of living,” which ANEP’s proposal fails to do. FMLN General Secretary Medardo Gonzalez also decried the proposal for providing “hunger wages," stating that “the FMLN does not accept the agreement reached by the business majority. They are practically mocking the workers.”
Numerous civil society organizations, workers unions, agricultural unions, and university students likewise rejected the proposal and called for a public debate about the Council's "false" labor representatives. The labor representatives on the Council are supposed to correspond to the country´s largest unions; however, the current unions filling this role represent only 3 percent of El Salvador´s organized workers, leading the popular movement to call for an audit to replace the current representatives and to institute a fairer selection process.
Ultimately, the National Minimum Wage Council´s approval of ANEP’s proposal is a reminder of the persistent efforts of big business to keep the working class subjugated and impoverished. Though the government effectively vetoed the decision, sending the proposal back to the drawing board, the balance of power is not in their favor, a signal that the consistent mobilization of the popular movement will be instrumental for any significant improvement for the standard of living for El Salvador's working majority.