Debating minimum wage with the trade unions

Last week, at the first Task Force meeting on minimum wage, we held a debate with Ronald Janssen, Adviser at ETUC.

Ronald informed us that the ETUC has been discussing this topic for at least ten years. He reminded us that the first one to launch the idea of a European minimum wage was Jacques Delors, but then this concept was set aside and the EU agenda in this field was dominated by the concept of flexicurity.

ETUC had its first position on minimum wage in 2007: they considered that it was too early to introduce a European minimum wage, but if member states wanted to introduce it, ETUC would support them. In 2012 ETUC adopted a resolution "Social compact for Europe", there it was stated that wage setting should remain a national matter; coverage of collective bargaining should also be increased.

He also explained the reasons why some member states are against the introduction of minimum wage: for instance in Italy, trade unions fear that the introduction of minimum wage would decrease the collective bargaining minimum standards that now are around 70-80% of average wages. Talking about "minimum" is problematic because it can trigger a race to the bottom in salaries. He also informed us that the French Social Minister recently talked about a European minimum wage.

They consider that collective bargaining is the starting point. Minimum wage is important for workers in sectors that are not unionised. Also workers that benefit from atypical contracts are often not represented by trade unions.

In the debate with members some interesting points were made. Mary Collins from the European Women’s' Lobby informed us that in countries where minimum wage exists, the situation of the gender pay gap is much better. She also highlighted that we should not consider wages in isolation; on the contrary we might look at decent incomes and make a strong link with social security.

Amana Ferro from EAPN informed us that EAPN has a task force which is looking into the successful Scottish campaign on living wages to see if it can be mainstreamed elsewhere.

We all realised that this is a very complex topic and before taking a position, we should carefully consider all the pros and cons. We need more expertise also on issues such as the legal basis. We will therefore meet again during the second week of June.