May 5th, 2011
08:08 AM GMT
(CNN) – How much money do you make in an hour? If you’re not rich, you probably think it’s too little. And thousands of people around the world likely feel the same as you. Here in Asia yesterday - International Labor Day - financially-frustrated protesters hit the streets of Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Jakarta and many other capital cities. Their demands: higher pay and stronger worker protection. Their criticisms: soaring food, fuel and property prices and an ever-widening income gap between the rich and poor. And pressure from the people is starting to squeeze gains out of governments.
On May 1 for example, Hong Kong finally premiered a minimum wage for the masses: HK$28 (US$3.60) per hour. The battle for this relative financial security was hard fought. Since the idea was first floated in 1999, the territory’s business leaders have lobbied against the idea. They claim the forced minimum would cause job losses because companies might scale back their employee numbers. Unions say the new minimum is a step in the right direction but that US$3.60 is still not high enough for low-income families. Union leaders had been asking for HK$33, or about US$4.20.
In Thailand on Sunday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva brought up the idea of kicking the hourly minimum wage higher by 25% over the next two years. Taiwan’s government on Saturday pledged support for at least a 3% rise in the minimum salary. Earlier in April, the government of Vietnam said it would raise public sector wages by 14%. And since the start of this year, China’s minimum wages - which vary among its provinces and municipalities - have risen roughly between 10% and 30%.
Motivations for these rises vary but you can bet it’s not just for the economic benefit of the people, but also for the stabilizing benefit to governments and their respective societies. The idea: minimum wage implementation and hikes are salves that governments hope will soothe social unrest and help political parties stay in power.
Thailand has scheduled new elections for its House of Representatives for no later than June. If the Prime Minister’s party loses, that potential 25% wage hike could go out the window. Taiwanese polls show current president Ma Ying-jeou trailing his rival by double digits. Presidential elections are scheduled for January of next year. Vietnam is currently enduring one of Asia’s highest rates of inflation. And China continues to battle rising social unrest and perceived threats to one-party Communist Party rule.
So, what’s the minimum wage in your country or region? What do you think should be done about it? And what are the motivations for any government wage hike where you are?
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