The 2012/03/13 at 06:40
Marie Luginsland, in Spire
If they come to an agreement in mid-March, then the two parties of the coalition government, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, will write a new page in German employment history. The bill in question relates to the introduction of a legal minimum salary – a revolution in one of the six last European countries to be without a minimum salary. In Germany, it is currently legal for a hairdresser to earn 4 euros an hour, a shop assistant 5.70 euros an hour, and a waitress 6.20 euros an hour. Regional disparities mean that a temp worker may be paid 7.70 euros or 6.89 euros per hour, depending on whether he or she works in the west or the east of the country. A total of 6.5 million Germans are employed in low-salary sectors and paid two-thirds of the national median salary.
Long criticised by the unions themselves, a minimum salary at 8.50 euros for all is now demanded by the all-powerful confederation of German unions, DGB (Deutsches Gewerkschaftsbund). “It is true that our previous position was to base ourselves on branch salary agreements and to oppose all State intervention,” acknowledges a DGB spokesperson who goes on to say that “employment market reforms introduced in 2005 in the 2010 Agenda (editorial note: under the Schröder government) and namely the creation of mini-jobs at 400 euros per month have changed the face of the situation”. These low-paid,tax-exempt jobs have no specifications on the number of working hours and give rise to all types of abuses. On top of this, a growing number of companies shirk from collective conventions. While 76% of salaried workers in the country’s west (63% in the east) worked in 1998 in a company that had ratified branch agreements, there were only 63% (50% in the east) of them to do so in 2010.
A majority of the Christian Democratic Union, joined by Socialist Democrats and the unions, is determined to eliminate this grey zone in German salaries. The Liberals are harder to convince – ditto for employers’ organisations. “A general minimum salary like the French SMIC, which does not take into account specificities of branches or regions, goes against socio-economic market principles. Salaries that are entirely reasonable in economically strong regions may lead to unemployment in structurally weaker regions by forcing companies, in the worst of cases, to downsize,” argues Luitwin Mallman, Secretary General of the Landesvereinigung der Unternehmensverbände Nordrhein-Westfalen e.V, an employers’ association in North Rhine-Westphalia. Like all professional federations, he considers that a legal minimum salary would be “an attack against price autonomy”. As is often the case in Germany, a compromise may well be found. This would mean imposing a legal minimum salary only on branches and regions without any salary agreements. Today, there are 74,000 salary agreements all over the German territory. But many of them specify minimum hourly salaries of under eight euros