The 2013/03/22 at 08:36
Marie Luginsland, in Germany
"Poison for our job market". This is how Hans Heinrich Driftmann, President of the DIHK, the federation of German CCIs, categorically describes the introduction of a minimum wage in Germany. His formula sums up the position of German businesses, at a time when the federal Republic is one of the rare European countries, along with Switzerland, Finland and Denmark, to have no minimum wage.
This is how a hairdresser may earn 3.05 euros per hour in the country's east, compared with 5.11 euros in the country's west; how a plumber in Saxony can be paid 4.06 euros per hour, in other words two euros less than a counterpart in Bavaria; how a florist paid 7.73 euros in the west may only be paid 4.30 euros per hour in the east. Meanwhile, those in the hotel-catering industry only earn 6.90 euros in the east, but 9.32 euros in the west. Only ten branches of activity have minimum wages to date, ranging from 6.50 euros (security guards) to 12.81 euros (mines).
8.50 euros per hour
Wholeheartedly refuted by all politicians and unions for many years, the minimum wage issue is making a comeback.
The Bundesrat (Upper Chamber), currently dominated by Social Democrat länder (states), recently voted in a bill to introduce a minimum hourly wage of 8.50 euros. The Christian Democrat länder making up the government majority have tended to block such bills. But for how much longer? For the introduction of a minimum wage has become one of the key issues in the electoral campaign for the next legislative elections in September this year.
The Social Democrats were the first to relaunch the debate, with their candidate for the chancellery, Peer Steinbrück, promising that one of his first measures will be to introduce a minimum hourly wage of 8.50 euros if he is elected. The Die Grünen (Green party) has promised to set a minimum wage of 7.10 euros while the radical leftist party, Die Linke, sets the bar at 10 euros. Things are also moving on the side of the Christian Democrats currently in power, who can no longer remain indifferent on the matter. While fiercely opposed to the idea until now, this party is conceding a few adjustments according to professional branches and according to regions. Meanwhile, long fearing that a minimum wage would bring down their wage demands, unions have now turned the notion into their new hobbyhorse.
Relief for the State
Unions have not failed to point out that employees would not be the only ones to benefit from this new salary boost. "The State will also be relieved from paying out social grants to compensate for low salaries," states Claus Matecki, Secretary General of the DGB, the German Confederation of Trade Unions. Brandishing the slogan "no to miserly salaries", the unions denouncethe manoeuvres of employer representatives wishing to adjust the sum of the minimum wage branch by branch, or region by region.
Following the trail of the President of the CCIs who states that the introduction of a minimum wage "would steer under-qualified persons from the job market", the BDA* (employers' union) is appealing to social justice. In its opinion, those who lack qualifications or the long-term unemployed "will be robbed of all their recruitment prospects as the minimum wage will be higher than the actual productivity of their positions". And according to a study by the economic institute, the IFO, a minimum wage of 8.50 euros would result in 1.2 million extra unemployed persons. What is irrefutable is that if this measure is applied, 19 % of German employees will see their wages go up from one day to the next (by 29 % if a minimum wage of 10 euros is applied).
Beyond the financial burden this measure represents for enterprises, the minimum wage would open a breach in the German labour dialogue, whose originality is based on the autonomy of social partners (unions and employer representatives) in collective bargaining. For as the President of the German CCIs points out, "minimum 'legal' wages are extremely problematic. It would be an error to wish to fix them politically. Wage autonomy must be protected." As envisaged by Germany's fundamental law.
*Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände.