Case study

The adoption of a minimum wage for the cleaning and security workers in private buildings will prove to be – and already is, in a sense – an interesting case study for local policy setting mechanisms. Let us leave aside the economic arguments and the empirical evidence concerning the setting of a minimum wage. Also, leave aside the ethical or political issues – be they the criteria to establish a minimum wage, or how to do it when meaningful mechanisms for workers representation do not exist. Ignore also the question why certain sectors should benefit from the measure while others are exempt, and which motives might explain such disparity. That is a long list of relevant issues: but let us focus only on the immediate effects of the measure, as reported in the media.
We are told that some buildings have already dispensed their doorkeepers and the cleaning personnel. Besides the loss of jobs, two immediate practical impacts are pointed out: degradation of hygiene conditions and reduced security. How real and how strong they are likely to be in reality may only be possible to evaluate properly a few months henceforth. But for now they are felt and we are told the government is taking measures to help on all those fronts.
First, the services of environmental protection (which apparently have in their remit the issues of domestic littering) and the municipal institute and the garbage collection company (which indeed have responsibilities in that matter) are deemed to increase the number of rubbish containers near the affected buildings, and increase the frequency of rubbish collection.
Second, the criminal police, the public security and the firefighters, all together, are supposed to enhance their vigilance in the affected areas, compensating for the lack of private security in those buildings. Whether the assigned personnel will be removed from other tasks or the three institutions will need to hire additional staff to fulfill the newly assigned duties is not clear.
Thirdly, the government will set a mechanism for financial help for those owners that cannot afford the new legal wages. We can start betting on how many will declare they dispense with the public largesse, supposing it materializes in any meaningful way.
Let us sum up. A popular and ‘feel-good’ policy measure is taken without visible consideration for the associated economic and political issues or the empirical evidence. Its adoption creates a public health hazard, a public security risk and promises additional burdens for the public purse. While purporting to help the weakest and less qualified, it may translate into further transfers of public money to owners of real estate. To deal with the hazards it created, seemingly half-cooked solutions are put forward, without noticeable evaluation of their consequences. Even ignoring the implicit public costs, it is difficult to see the ‘solutions’ as fair, reasonable or feasible. This is not policy setting at its best.