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 South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid