Venezuela hikes minimum wage 30 pct amid spiraling inflation
CARACAS May 1 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday raised the country's minimum wage by 30 percent in an effort to protect salaries as soaring prices and a shrinking economy increasingly sting his working-class support base.
"I'm obliged to defend the vital mininum salary, the basic salary of the workers," said Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, at a televised May Day rally in Caracas.
Maduro did not specify the exact new monthly wage, but an increase of 30 percent would yield 7,309 bolivars, equivalent to $1,160 at the strongest official exchange rate but only $26 at the black market rate.
Inflation sped to 68.5 percent in 2014 as the tumble in global oil prices since last June left the OPEC member country's economy reeling.
The central bank has not published inflation figures for the first months of 2015. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has reported that inflation hit 50 percent in the first four months of this year.
The country's economic woes, including a recession and constant shortages of products ranging from milk to dish soap, have helped push Maduro's popularity ratings to around 30 percent.
He blames the situation on an "economic war" he says is being carried out by adversaries of his socialist government with the help of Washington.
Critics say last year's 64 percent expansion of the money supply, low productivity at state-run companies and a weakening of the private sector have left Venezuela unable to cope with the drop in oil, which provides most of its hard currency. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Deisy Buitrago, editing by G Crosse)
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