On December 29, 2020, the government of Iván Duque decreed an increase in the monthly minimum wage in force for 2021 in Colombia of 3.5%. This brings the lowest remuneration allowed by law to 908,526 pesos per month, an increase of 30,723 pesos. The transportation assistance was set at 106,454 pesos, an increase of 3,600 pesos. These two figures, which are not always paid by employers, represent an increase of 34,323 net pesos, setting the value of the minimum wage with transportation at 1’014,980 pesos [1] . This implies a daily salary of 30,248 pesos and a payment of 3,785 pesos for ordinary hours [2] in a country where it is common to extend the working day for more than 8 hours without additional pay and where overtime, night and Sunday hours are frequently unknown.

The government argues that this increase is more than double the growth of inflation in the estimated year in 2020, which is 1.5% and therefore would represent a net increase of 2%. However, in the general average that the Banco de la República’s own figures show, there is an annual consumer inflation of 2.5% for the year, so in reality the increase would mean an increase of 1% [3] . According to data from this same institution, this is the lowest percentage increase in history since this salary floor was established in 1983 [4] . The current minimum wage is equivalent to 261.36 dollars and 216.62 euros per month, lower rates due to the effect of the depreciation of the currency than the average of 5 years ago [5], and even to the conversion obtained last year.

Faced with this, Duque demagogically argued that this figure represented the fulfillment of the campaign promise, which comes only three years late, of a minimum wage that exceeds one million pesos, which on the one hand is false because the aid to the Transportation is not part of the base salary and, on the other hand, it would be a Pyrrhic achievement in the midst of the loss of the value of the currency [6] . For his part, the second Minister of Labor of the Duque government, the uribista politician Ángel Custodio Cabrera, banking advisor and client baron of the ICBF [7]He argued that this was the government that had increased the minimum wage the most in real terms since 1985 and that a 5% increase would accumulate above inflation in the last three years. However, the fact is that, as government media such as El Tiempo warn , the salary keeps its purchasing power frozen with respect to the last year and in fact has lost up to a quarter of its value in the last 5 years.

The government decision comes after a new failure of the ineffective Permanent Commission for the Coordination of Labor and Wage Policies, with a tripartite structure, created in 1997. Thus, the employer representatives grouped in the National Trade Union Council (CGN) outlined a poor proposal to increase the 2% that rose to 2.7%, while the unions gathered in the Unitary National Command (CNU) presented a unified proposal for an increase of 13.9%, to leave the minimum wage at 1 million pesos. In the Commission that had 7 negotiation rounds in November and December without major progress [8], the union and pension centrals, which in an anomalous way and for the second year in a row were not divided in the negotiation, also raised the basic income, the pension increase and their rejection of the emergency labor decrees that made hiring conditions more flexible [9] , generating a closed refusal on the part of the bosses and the national government.

This is in the midst of a State policy that rhetorically seeks a balance between increasing purchasing power and stimulating job creation, while in practice it maintains a low-wage policy without generating durable jobs. However, the business press and the neoliberal “specialists” are pushing for even lower increases and outlining a discourse of economic adjustment in which they argue against all evidence, the failed orthodox recipe for a way out of the crisis through low wages and increased employment. labor exploitation [10] .

This situation occurs within the general framework of a deep economic crisis generated by the pandemic and the isolation measures, in which the government estimates that the country’s GDP may have contracted by -6.6% in 2020, a figure that the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) rose to -8.2%. In the current crisis, an average annual unemployment rate was also reached until November of last year of 16.3% and 3,797,900 people without work, an estimate that the IMF rises to 17.3% [11] , unemployment that as usual hits the hardest women and precarious youth. There is also an important fiscal deficit that reaches 9% of GDP and an external debt that increased more than 10 points and reached 54.82% of GDP, which the Monetary Fund estimates up to 68.2% [12] .

In this complex panorama, business representatives consider that the crisis may represent a historic opportunity to carry out a double neoliberal economic reform, which, on the one hand, advances the partially defeated labor reform that lowers the cost of employment through wage reduction and precariousness deeper of the contracting conditions and a tax reform, which by maintaining the exemption schemes for companies and high incomes, increases regressive and indirect taxes on the majority of the population [13] .

DANE records that in the first 10 months of 2020, 63.8% of employed workers and 12.4 million people earn up to a minimum wage or less, an increase of 3 points compared to 2019. This is also more dramatic since 48.6% of the employed, the highest proportion in 3 years, earn less than 0.9 of the minimum wage, a sign of the general worsening of wage conditions in the midst of the crisis [14]. In total, for 2020, 88.6% of employed workers and 17.3 million, earn up to 2 minimum wages, a sample of the relative precariousness of the employed working class in the country, which is worse for women or the black population. And this without mentioning the informal workers, migrants or pensioners, who structure their salaries and benefits also based on the minimum wage.

Although the structural weakness of the unions in a negotiating table where the bosses inside and outside the government are the majority, the union organizations did not call for any specific mobilization activity for the minimum wage, returning to the usual channels that only the working day of national protest from November-December 2019 had managed to break temporarily [15] . And although the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) developed a communication campaign to explain the proposed increase, these actions simply cannot replace the collective action of the workers.

While the bourgeoisie prepares for a new adjustment plan to get out of the economic crisis by deepening the precariousness and labor exploitation, the workers and popular movement is ineffective and withdrawn. The synthesis of situations that arise and are wasted in the minimum wage negotiation situation continues to be exceptional, and there are few moments of greater and more general class politicization, sense of community and anti-government criticism among a precarious and divided working class, which in its turn Most do not participate in sectoral negotiations or collective bargaining agreements and therefore have their sole claiming authority in the negotiation of the minimum wage. Taking advantage of this situation in a classist and libertarian sense continues to be an urgent task, and making this a key element,

Up those who fight!

Libertarian Group Via Libre

[1] Ministry of Labor. Colombian workers will have a minimum wage of 908,526 plus transport assistance of 106,454 in 2021 . In Mintrabajo.gov. In Eltiempo.com. December 29, 2020.

[2] Minimum wage Colombia. Minimum salary 2021 monthly Colombia. In salariominimocolombi.net.

[3] The Bank registers an annual inflation of 1.61%. However, this only corresponds to the information from December 2020. According to the entity’s own data, on the other hand, in 4 months there was an inflation above 3%, in 2 above 2% and in 2 above 1.9% . Own calculations based on Banco de la República. Economic indicators bulletin. January 18, 2021. At barrep.gov.co.

[4] Weather . Minimum wage: Has your purchasing power improved or worsened? December 30, 2020.

[5] Annex: Minimum wage in Colombia. On Wikipedia.org.

[6] Weather. What do you buy with the 30,000 increase in the minimum wage ? In Eltiempo.com. December 31, 2020.

[7] The Empty Chair. Ángel Custodio Cabrera. At Lasillavacia.com. April 18, 2020.

[8] Unitary National Command. Once again the agreement on the minimum wage fails. At Cut.org. December 18, 2020.

[9] Unitary National Command. Union movement presents a unified proposal for the presentation of the minimum wage 2021. In Cut.org. November 13, 2020.

[10] The Republic. Minimum salary for 2021 rises 3.5% and remains at 1,014,980 with transportation assistance. In larep República.co. December 29, 2020.

[11] Own calculations based on Banco de la República. Economic indicators bulletin. January 18, 2021. At barrep.gov.co.

[12] Portfolio. Unemployment, debt and lower GDP, this will be the country’s economy by 2025. In portafolio.co. November 12, 2020.

[13] So for example. Briefcase. Colombian economy would grow 5.3% in 2021. In portafolio.co. December 3, 2020.

[14] The Republic. Minimum salary for 2021 rises 3.5% and remains at 1,014,980 with transportation assistance.

[15] As we pointed out in Vía Libre. Reflections on the minimum wage for 2020. In grupovialibre.org. January 28, 2020.

Source: Awsm.nz