The Brazilian government decided that this year's annual increase of the country's
minimum wage will be 8.33 percent, which is more than inflation and most price
increases during the period. However, by raising it from US$ 80.89 (240 reais)
to US$ 87.63 (260 reais) the Brazilian minimum wage still has a lot
of ground to cover before recuperating all the purchasing power it has lost
over the last 64 years since it came into existence.
According to calculations
by José Maurício Soares, of the union-linked Dieese (Departamento
Intersindical de Estatística e Estudos Sócio-econômicosSocio-Economic
Studies and Statistics Department), in order to obtain the purchasing power
it had in 1959, today's minimum wage would have to be US$ 208 (R$ 618).
In 1959, the minimum wage
in Brazil was tied to the cost of a basic-needs basket (cesta básica).
At that time it could purchase four basic-needs baskets. Today a minimum wage
pays for 69 percent of one basic-needs basket. In 1959, a minimum wage could
pay for 1,000 trips on urban buses. Today a worker uses all of his minimum
wage to pay for 153 trips by bus in the city.
Purchasing power is not
the only way to compare today's minimum wage with what it was in the past
(in fact, comparative purchasing power is a difficult and uncertain calculation).
There is also Gross Domestic Product growth. That averages out to 3 percent
a year since 1959, which would mean that the minimum wage today should be
US$ 404 (R$1,200).
According to Soares, if
the government continues to base adjustments of the minimum wage on inflation
indexes and increasing it slightly above those indexes (which is what the
government did this year; the real increase was 1.2 percent or 1.4 percent,
according to the government and the Dieese, respectively), it will take more
than 49 years to double it's purchasing power. On the other hand, adjusting
the minimum wage with real increases of 3 percent (which is what has been
done, on average, over the last eight years), it will take around 22 years
to double its purchasing power.
Soares says that the only
way to effectively increase minimum wage purchasing power is to use long-term
targets, for periods of at least 4 to 8 years, and follow them.
Between April 2003 and
April 2004, the IPCA (Índice Nacional de Preços ao Consumidor
AmploBroad National Consumer Price Index), which the government uses
to gauge its inflation targets, rose 6.10 percent. The IPCA measures inflation
for families with monthly incomes between 1 and 40 minimum wages in the metropolitan
regions of Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Recife, São
Paulo, Belém, Fortaleza, Curitiba and Salvador, besides the Distrito
Federal and Goiânia. If the IPCA is used as a comparison base, the real
increase of the minimum wage announced yesterday was 2.23 percentage points
During the same period,
the INPC (Índice Nacional de Preços ao ConsumidorNational
Consumer Price Index) rose 6.84 percent. The INPC measures inflation for families
with a monthly income between 1 and 8 minimum wages in the same areas as the
IPCA. If the INPC is used as a comparison base, the real increase in the minimum
wage was 1.49 percentage points (1.40 percent).
There is also the ICV
(Índice de Custo de VidaCost of Living Index), which measures
inflation for families in São Paulo with monthly incomes between 1
and 30 minimum wages. It rose 6.17 percent, which means that if it is the
comparison base, the minimum wage rose 2.16 percentage points (2.04 percent).
The increase in the minimum
wage was announced April 29 by Minister of Labor, Ricardo Berzoini. The readjustment
decision was made by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
after several meetings with ministers over the past few days to discuss the
impact of the increase on government accounts. The President kept his promise
to raise the minimum more than the level of inflation, calculated at 5.89
percent over the past months.
In addition to increasing
the minimum wage, the government also decided to readjust the family wage,
which will go from US$ 4.5 (R$ 13.48) to US$ 6.7 (R$ 20.00) per child for
workers who receive the minimum wage.
Organizations that represent
workers, such as the CUT (Central Única dos TrabalhadoresWorkers'
Central Union), consider insufficient the announced increase in the minimum
wage. According to CUT president, Luiz Marinho, the readjustment will not
make it possible to meet the needs of the population, especially for those
who receive between one and two minimum wages. The CUT wanted the minimum
wage to be fixed at US$ 101.00 (R$ 300.00).
The entrepreneurial sector,
on the other hand, expressed satisfaction with the increase determined by
the government, avoiding economic impacts that could lead to higher interest
The CUT intends to fight
for the value of the minimum wage to attain US$ 471.00 (R$ 1,400.00)
surplus target of 4.25 percent of GDP would be compromised if
the minimum wage was bigger than US$ 87.63 (R$ 260) declared
minister of Planning, Guido Mantega, as he sought to justify
the R$ 20 increase.
pointed out that the budget had earmarked US$ 1.01 billion (R$
3 billion) for a minimum wage increase, which would have been
at R$ 256. The new salary will mean an expense of US $1.2 billion
(R$ 3.650 billion), he explained.
Mantega went on to
say that the government had been hoping for increased revenue
in order to raise the minimum wage more, but that after checking
the books for March and April it was clear that there was no
way to raise the minimum more without compromising fiscal targets.
said the government is determined to reach its fiscal goals
and is certain that GDP growth will be 3.5 percent this year
and 4 percent next year. "It is important for people to
understand that we are growing. Vigorous growth is occurring.
That is why we need money, so we can invest it and bring interest
rates down and get the private sector moving," he declared.
In conclusion Mantega
said that the government had been very successful last year
in handling the economic crisis and dealing with the problems
the previous administration had left.
Mylena Fiori works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency
of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.