What can labor ministers in the developing world learn from the heated debate on minimum wages that Seattle’s dramatic reforms reignited? The answer may be confusion. After more than 6,000 scientific articles, the discussion on the costs and benefits of raising minimum wages is still one of those unresolved million-dollar questions: Many economists claim that it is a very effective way to guarantee decent jobs for workers and to reduce inequality, but other economists and policymakers seem convinced that it would do just the opposite. The recent experiment in Seattle, unfortunately, adds little clarity.
For China, the minimum wage is a useful tool to reduce wage and income inequality, and in recent years, the minimum wage has risen rapidly in many provinces. We recently asked Shi Li (Professor of Economics, School of Economics and Business, Beijing Normal University) about the economic impact of the higher minimum wages. He cautions that enforcement was lax until 2009 and the results of the initial studies are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.
The recent negotiations between Philippines and Saudi Arabia about the minimum living wages for migrant workers have resulted in a stalemate. Philippines is demanding a minimum wage of $400 per month for its workers, while Saudi Arabia is willing to stipulate a minimum wage of $200 per month. Saudi Arabia stopped processing contracts of Filipino workers in March, recently the Philippines has said that it will not send Filipino maids to Saudi Arabia until the dispute is resolved. Saudi Arabia hosts 1.2 million Filipino migrants and accounts for nearly 300,000 overseas deployments annually, while the Philippines receives $1.5 billion annually in remittances from Saudi Arabia. Thus, this wage dispute could lead to loss of employment opportunities for Filipinos, involve cost of reintegrating returning workers, and a reduction in remittance flows -- all of which could adversely impact the Philippine economy.