By María Longo
Minimum wage set for working Guatemalans is insufficient to cover the basics of subsistence living. Meanwhile civil servants and other public workers have exorbitant salaries and wages.
For 2023 the Guatemalan government set the minimum monthly earnings for the Department of Guatemala at Q 3,416.38 (approximately $456) for all sectors other than agricultural and for the remainder of the country at Q $3,327.56 ($ 444 approx.). In both cases this minimum is below the basic cost of living as of October 2022 when it was at Q 3,633.85 ($485 approximately).
At this minimal level it is impossible to purchase the 34 essential products of what is considered a more extensive list of basics for a household of 4.7 persons. Even with two minimum incomes such a list of basics is illusionary. Up until 2022 this more generous list came to a cost of Q 8,390.33 ($ 1119 approx.).
Included in the expanded list of necessary basics are essential foods, clothing, housing, healthcare, means of communication and transportation, recreation and cultural activities, education, restaurant, hotel and various other goods and services.
Purchasing basic living essentials is even more difficult for agricultural workers. In the Department of Guatemala the minimum wage of an agricultural worker comes to
Q 3,323.60/month ($ 443 approximately). In other departments it is Q 3,237.53 ($ 432 approx.). Those working in manufacturing and exported goods face the same difficulties. In the Department of Guatemala their minimum wage comes to Q 3,143.54/mo. ($ 419 approx.). In the rest of the country it’s Q 3,062.63 ($ 408 approx.)
Many people figure out ways to survive on minimum wage. They cut back on how many times they eat. They reduce meat consumption. They work two jobs. They eat less at each meal and work more. Meanwhile government officials and civil servants receive extremely high salaries. In December 2022 Justices on the Supreme Court gave themselves a raise of Q 32, 000 ($ 4267 approx.). The current Chief Justice, Silvia Valdez, will earn Q 46,800-Q79,000/month ($ 6133- $ 10,533/mo. approx.)
A worker who earns minimum wage would need to work three additional years to make what government officials are paid in a month. President Alejandro Giammattei receives Q 148,838/mo. ($ 19,845/mo. approx.). The mayor of Villa Nueva, Javier Gramajo, makes
Q 121,550/mo. ($ 16,207/mo. approx.). The mayor of Quetzaltenango, Juan Fernando Lopez, makes at least Q 101,000/mo. ($ 13467/mo. approx.)
“Low Wages Increase Inequality: The Impact of Salary Differences in the Home”, a study presented by OXFAM in 2016 explains that similar to wealthy countries, in developing countries, the main source for household and personal income is wages.
“In societies around the world inequality is increasing to intolerable levels and differences between the highest wages/salaries and the lowest are the main cause. Wage gap increases and affects living conditions for male and female workers world-wide, especially affecting the poorest and most vulnerable who can not count on sufficient income to cover necessities. In most countries inequality has reached insufferable limits, weakening people’s ability to lift themselves out of poverty, eroding the dynamics and sustainability of economic growth, also greatly limiting opportunity for prosperity in societies. Just in the last 25 years, rents world-wide have doubled. Ten percent of the wealthiest are the ones who’ve most taken advantage of these opportunities, taking more than half of this increase for themselves,” according to the report.
Wage and salary inequalities also cross gender. In Guatemala there’s a wage difference between men and women. The 2021 study, Female Workers in Guatemala, by ASIES (Association for Investigation and Social Studies) and the EU found that the average Q 2,232 ($ 300 approx.) earned by a working woman in Guatemala is 8 % less than the national average. For Guatemalan men the gap is 12%. By occupational category the largest gap is for agricultural workers, again with a gender gap. Other important differences are among day laborers both in agricultural employment and in other types of work. The lowest gap is found among public sector employees.