While some living wage initiatives decided to base the calculation of the living wage on the needs of a single person working full-time, others have tried to continue with a traditional family household composed of two adults and two children, while still others calculate the living wage based on average wages required by different types of households (Hirsch and Valadez-Martinez, 2017; see also D’Arcy and Finch, 2019). The calculations are based on the assumption of a 40-hour working week and a 52-week year, with the exceptions of France (35 hours), Belgium (38 hours), Ireland (39 hours), and Germany (39.1 hours). (…) by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level – I mean the wages of decent living’ (Roosevelt, 1933). Fourth and finally, debates on a European minimum wage have often been more symbolic in character, aimed at emphasising the notion of a more social Europe rather than defining a concrete policy project. Despite all national particularities, the common feature of all these initiatives is the concept of a living wage, although the explicit use of the term is still limited mainly to Anglophone countries. Why Do (Some) European Trade unions reject minimum wage regulation? During the 20th century the living wage concept found its way into various international documents and conventions (Anker, 2011; Schulten et al., 2015; Zimmer, 2019). Such a technocratic approach would ignore the historically evolved approaches at national level, as well as their embeddedness in specific national welfare systems. Based on these criteria most minimum wages in the EU are in fact below the poverty threshold (for the following, see Figure 1). Press Release, 14 April 2019, Familienlohn” – zur Entwicklung einer wirkmächtigen Normierung geschlechtsspezifischer Arbeitsteilung, Heil kündigt Initiative für europäischen Mindestlohn an, Living wages: a reasonable goal or surrender of minimum wages?
While there have always been advocates for a much higher minimum wage, more recently the two left parties in parliament (SPD and Die LINKE), as well as growing parts of the German trade unions, started to demand a structural increase to €12 per hour (Schulten and Pusch, 2019). The latter assumes that companies will pay workers only in line with their individual productivity. In all these documents a living wage is defined as a fundamental social right for all workers. Moreover, these European debates have usually borne no relation at all to current minimum wage policies at national level. Accordingly, 60 per cent of the national median wage can be seen as the ‘at-risk-of-poverty’ wage threshold established with the goal of ensuring that workers are not dependent on the state (through tax credits or in-work benefits) for relief from poverty. Figure 1. Angesicht der Heterogenität der Mindestlohnsysteme und der Wohlfahrtsstaatstraditionen in Europa plädiert der Artikel für einen pragmatischen Ansatz.
El PSOE quiere subir el salario mínimo hasta los 1.200 euros, Wspólne stanowisko Solidarności, OPZZ i Forum ZZ: minimalna w 2020 r. co najmniej 2520 zł brutto. This year, the government increased the minimum wage in line with the legal formula, but also increased the employment bonus – an additional payment to low-income employees that is financed by the state budget, hence avoiding a negative impact on labour costs. This should allow for a decent living wherever they work’ (Von der Leyen, 2019: 9). When the minimum wage was introduced in 2015, however, it was clear right from the beginning that the level was not sufficient for a decent life. The question of which type of household is considered for the calculation of the living wage is also closely linked to the corresponding welfare state and the more fundamental question of which type of income should cover which type of costs (Hurley et al., 2018: 16–17). Later on, Karl Marx (1887: 121) added that the value of labour always contains a ‘historical and moral element’, which depends on the state of social and cultural development, but also on the wage struggle between capital and labour. Percentage increases were lowest in Malta (+1.9%), followed by Portugal (3.5%) and Slovenia (+5.2%), next to the already mentioned exceptionally high changes in Spain and Greece. It started with the Preamble to the Constitution of the International Labour Organisation of 1919, which referred explicitly to ‘the provision of an adequate living wage’. Please read and accept the terms and conditions and check the box to generate a sharing link. More recently, the debate continued with the British Trade Union Congress TUC, as well as the Labour Party, demanding a substantial minimum wage increase of 22 per cent to £10 per hour in order to make the statutory minimum wage a real living wage (O’Grady, 2019; TUC, 2019). Against this background, campaigns for living wages have become a core issue in many European countries. The starting point of modern living wage movements is considered to be a development in Baltimore, Maryland, where in 1994 the city council passed a so-called ‘living wage ordinance’, according to which all companies and organisations that received public grants or were under public contracts had to pay their employees at least the prescribed local living wage, which at the time of its introduction was more than 70 per cent above the national minimum wage (Luce, 2002). In France, President Emmanuel Macron repeatedly proposed ‘a minimum European wage appropriate to each country and discussed collectively every year’ (Macron, 2019). Currently, it is the trade unions in the eastern Visegrád countries in particular that are calling for a substantial increase of minimum wages, by 12 per cent in Poland and the Czech Republic and even 22 per cent in Slovakia (Table 1).
First, they followed the microeconomic assumption that the bargaining power of labour and capital was structurally unequal, which had to be offset by labour market institutions such as collective bargaining or minimum wages. On the other hand, various international and European conventions call for political action in order to guarantee the right to decent pay (see Zimmer, 2019). This page is … Only four countries (France, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia) are above or close to the 60 per cent threshold.
They go back to the 1990s when the EU discussed the implementation of the EU Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers of December 1989, according to which all workers in the EU ‘shall be assured of an equitable wage, that is, a wage sufficient to enable them to have a decent standard of living’ (Schulten, 2008). From such a perspective, it is the responsibility of the state to guarantee the workers’ subsistence by providing additional income support. Hurley, J, Vacas-Soriano, C, Muraille, M, Living Wage Technical Group (2019) 12,30 per hour. Source: Schulten and Lübker (2019) on the basis of OECD data (https://stats.oecd.org/). Luxembourg's Minimum Wage is the lowest amount a worker can be legally paid for his work. Political influence on the wage-setting process does not always lead to higher increases: in Portugal, for example, the government proposed an increase of the minimum wage (based on 14 monthly payments per year) to over €600 and invited the social partners to settle on a higher level; as the social partners could not agree, in the end the Council of Ministers approved the initial government proposal.