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

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora