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The first stage consultation document issued yesterday by the Commission aims at collecting Social Partners reaction on a possible Union action addressing the challenges related to fair minimum wages.

Reacting to the Commission’s initiative, Kristjan Bragason, EFFAT General Secretary,  said: ”As a European Trade Union Organisation representing workers in some of the most difficult and precarious sectors of the economy, EFFAT welcomes President von der Leyen’s and Commissioner Schmit’s declared intention to ensure fair minimum wages in Europe. However, from the first consultation document it seems clear that the initiatives the Commission is considering lack ambition. Over the last years, inequalities and in-work poverty have been growing in Europe, also as consequence of austerity measures imposed in some member states. European workers really need a game changer initiative and a new vision that ensures the development of all wages, including minimum ones. As we have always said, the only way to achieve that is strengthening sectoral collective bargaining”.

In some member states of the European Union the right to organise and be recognised, to form trade unions and negotiate with employers, the right to collective action, to time credit for union representatives, or to protection against unfair dismissal are still violated or not fully respected.  In order to keep labour costs low, companies often implement aggressive union-busting strategies. Furthermore, workers employed in many sectors of the economy including platform workers are still denied collective bargaining rights. Kristjan Bragason added: “For EFFAT, it is not acceptable that while agricultural and hospitality workers often miss contractual protection and have to face exploitative working hours and harsh treatment, employers are still receiving funding of the Common Agriculture Policy or can still benefit from the awarding of public contracts. These situations affect wages including minimum ones. Ensuring sectoral collective bargaining rights for all workers as well as revising the Public procurement directive and including social criteria in the funding of the CAP are long awaited initiatives that would comply with the objectives set by President von der Leyen and Commissioner Schmit”.

As far as the adequacy of minimum wages is concerned, the document outlines the need to set minimum wages at an adequate level but it doesn’t include any concrete proposal in that respect: “It is not clear yet what the Commission has in mind to increase statutory minimum wages. According to EFFAT all wages should be living wages. Wages should always ensure a decent standard of living to all workers and their families. They should allow for appropriate participation in society and protection in case of unforeseen shocks . With these principles in mind, we will do our best to ensure the Commission will listen to our proposals” Bragason said.

Kristjan Bragason highlights that the Commission document is a mix of correct analysis and worrying assumptions. If on one hand it certainly acknowledges that the situation of low wage workers has worsened and wage inequalities have increased in the EU, on the other it contains ambiguous wording when it links the level of minimum wages to potential effects on competitiveness and employment: “Fair wages for all workers are an essential element to ensure fair competition and the same level playing field. They cannot be considered a limit to competitiveness itself”, he said.

Finally, the Commission’s document lacks clarity on the way well-functioning industrial relation systems will be protected. According to EFFAT the initiative must not create any prejudice to those systems where social partners play an autonomous role in setting working conditions through sectoral and, where applicable, cross-sectoral collective bargaining. Safeguards must apply to ensure that national governments do not interfere with the independent role played by social partners.