News / Europe

Minimum Wage Debate Looms Large in German Election Campaign

A supporter of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) blows a whistle as she takes part in a union rally for "political change" in Frankfurt, Sept. 7, 2013.
A supporter of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) blows a whistle as she takes part in a union rally for "political change" in Frankfurt, Sept. 7, 2013.
Ana Hontz-Ward
With signs of an economic recovery in sight, several countries in the European Union, including Poland and Romania, have been discussing the issue of low minimum wages.  But the debate has intensified in Germany, the only European Union country without a minimum wage law. The issue has been at the center of the debate between incumbent German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democratic Party, her opponent in the federal elections set for later this month.

Sabine Theodono, 33, works as a hairdresser in a small beauty salon outside the city of Frankfurt.

At $6.50 (5 euros) an hour, hairdressers are among the lowest paid workers in Germany, where, according to the German Federal Statistics Office, the number of people living in poverty is now 12 million, and increase of about 400,000 people over the last decade.

"I work 40 hours a week, but if I wasn’t married and had to support myself with my salary, it would be impossible to pay the bills. With the prices we have now in Germany, it would be absolutely impossible,” said Sabine.

Germany's Social Democratic Party has made the minimum wage the dominant issue in the current political campaign. Their candidate for the post of chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, has recommended an hourly wage of $11.00 (8.50 euros) for all German workers and vowed to pass a minimum wage law in the first 100 days on the job.

"We are talking about euro rescue. We are talking about loans to other countries, and then of course, it’s harder to sell to the German public that people within your own country are suffering. That’s why the opposition parties have tried to make this issue an election issue," said Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING Bank.

German Chancellor and CDU top candidate Angela Merkel speaks during an election campaign meeting in Giessen, Germany, Sept.4, 2013.German Chancellor and CDU top candidate Angela Merkel speaks during an election campaign meeting in Giessen, Germany, Sept.4, 2013.
x
German Chancellor and CDU top candidate Angela Merkel speaks during an election campaign meeting in Giessen, Germany, Sept.4, 2013.
German Chancellor and CDU top candidate Angela Merkel speaks during an election campaign meeting in Giessen, Germany, Sept.4, 2013.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was originally opposed to a minimum age law, but now campaigns on the idea that industries and the unions should decide their own minimum wage by collective bargaining.

Her Christian Democratic Party fears a national minimum wage will make German products uncompetitive and eliminate millions of jobs.  They also point to countries like France, where a high minimum wage of $12.50 (9.43 euros) an hour made employers reluctant to hire and is considered a leading cause of high youth unemployment.

"That is something that has clearly undermined the competitiveness in many European countries," said Carsten Brzeski. "France and Belgium are such examples, where due to high costs their companies lost market shares. There is always a very thin line balancing between the urgently needed exports that all EU countries need and at the same time having some kind of social justice within the country."

The biggest question in the debate in Germany is who will support the higher salaries and who will pick up the tab - customers, or the government?

"We can pay a higher wage, but we will need help from the government," said Kida Imran, the owner of a small hair salon in the southwestern city of Mainz. "There are so many taxes here in Germany. If they were lower, then businesses would have some relief and could pay their employees a little more."

The debate in Germany comes amid upbeat news of higher-than-expected economic growth, an export surplus and relatively low unemployment compared to other EU countries.

According to ING's Brzeski, whoever wins the chancellor elections should use the momentum to settle the minimum wage debate for good.

"Some kind of minimum standard will come, because it’s very hard to explain to people that the economy is really running like a stream train but that not everyone is benefiting from it," said Brzeski.

According to a European Union study released in July, the country with the highest minimum wage in the EU is Luxembourg, while the lowest minimum wage is in Bulgaria. The German elections are September 22.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid