Minimum wage raised by over 25%, health workers end official hunger strike and self-harm protests, and preparations in place to celebrate International Workers’ Day.
Photo ©Manaure Quintero
Workers on minimum wage will see a 26.5% hike in their salaries, confirmed President Hugo Chávez in a television appearance last Monday. The change, set to affect over 25% of public sector workers, will be implemented in two stages over the next five months.
Coinciding with International Workers’ Day on Sunday 1 May, the first set rise will boost the minimum monthly wage from 1,223.89 Venezuelan Bolivares (USD 284.63 at the official exchange rate) to VEB 1,407.4 (USD 327.30), accounting for an increase of 15%. A further 10% will be added on 1 September, taking the total monthly salary to VEB 1,548.14 (USD 360.03).
According to Chávez’s official blog, the move will benefit 1 million formal workers in the private sector; 408,000 employees and labourers working in public administration; and 98,000 women working in the social program Madres del Barrio (Neighbourhood Mothers). The rise will also increase over 2 million state pensions, currently set to match minimum wage level.
Since coming to power in 1999, the self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist leader has sought decrees to raise the legal minimum wage on a yearly basis, whilst claiming on Monday that the percentage of those earning minimum wage has fallen some 44% over the past 12 years. Chávez also happily reminded followers of his predecessors’ neglect of workers, stating that the IV Republic maintained the lowest wages of the continent and froze state pensions. ‘They even screwed over the old folk,’ he said of previous governments.
Despite the celebratory tone of the president’s announcement, detractors complained that the increase was minimal, barely covering last year’s overall inflation rate of 27.2%. National newspaper El Universal was quick to point out that workers on minimum wage could not afford ever-expensive weekly food basics, even when taking the recent increase into account.
However, officials blame food price speculation, rather than inflation, for the disparity between wages and demands. María Cristina Iglesias, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, urged workers to unite in the fight against speculation in an interview broadcast on state television channel VTV.
Meanwhile, the president’s anticipated announcement put an end to a four-week national hunger strike staged by nurses across the country. The health workers, protesting in 10 different regions over rates of pay, had abstained from eating for 38 days. In a current trend used by numerous groups to pressure the government, several nurses also sutured their lips and extracted blood from their veins.
News of the wage increase on Monday led to health workers agreeing to end their protest on Tuesday. Nurses stated that they were satisfied with the perceived outcome of their protest. Chávez made no comment on the issue.
Amongst conflict and protests in sectors of employment, celebrations are planned to take place to mark May Day, or International Workers’ Day, on Sunday 1 May. On the day, metro services will be provided free of charge, whilst pro- and anti-governmental marches through Caracas will be supervised by almost 3,000 officials to guarantee the security of participants.