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 Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
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 North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
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.

All About America

AppleAndroid