On May 30th – four weeks after May Day – Salvadoran workers returned to the streets to demand increased minimum wages for private sector jobs. Over two thousand people marched to the headquarters of the National Association of Private Businesses (ANEP) – similar to the US Chamber of Commerce – demanding that the business association raise the minimum wage for industrial and maquila workers to be on par with the public sector minimum wage of $300/month.
Minimum wages in El Salvador vary by sector, and currently is set at $187.68 per month for maquila workers and $219.40 for industrial workers. The January 2011 increase in the public sector minimum wage to $300 per month was a huge victory – though it did not affect a large percentage of workers. Public sector workers make up only 6% of the workforce in El Salvador, while the great majority of industrial, service, factory and agricultural workers are employed by private businesses and corporations. These workers’ wages have remained stagnant even as prices, especially in urban areas, have risen to the point where the wages that the maquilas pay are not even enough to cover the basic necessities as one participant in the march explained. “Keeping wages low is part of a neoliberal strategy which only benefits the economic elite; we will continue to take to the streets to fight for better wages and the rights and dignity of all Salvadorans,” declared Wilfredo Berrios, a leader of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS).
ANEP representatives refused to meet with the delegation of community and union members to hear the movement’s demands, though the delegation did leave their written demands. The Coalition for a Safe Country without Hunger (CONPHAS), one of the main organizers of the march, also plans to bring their demands to the executive branch and the National Minimum Wage Commission as well as have forums and more public education around this issue. The FSS, a member of CONHPAS, has made raising the minimum wage for private sector workers a priority along with defeating the Public Private Partnership Law.