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Employment: Towards adequate minimum wages in Europe?

European Parliament

The European Commission proposed on 4 November 2020 an EU directive to ensure that workers in the Union are protected by adequate minimum wages that allow them to live in dignity wherever they work, and to promote collective negotiation on wages in all Member States.

Sylvie Brunet, MEP and Vice-President of the Renew Group (MoDem, France) answered our questions. She was also the President of the French EESC's Labour and Employment Committee.

Many of the workers who are on the front line during the COVID-19 crisis are receiving minimum wages. Today, almost 10% of workers in the European Union are living in poverty. Caregivers, health professionals, cleaning staff... What are the objectives of this directive for European citizens affected by these wage levels?

It should be remembered that the aim of this proposed directive is to create a framework that improves the access of all workers in the European Union to the protection offered by minimum wages that are sufficient to be considered a decent or adequate wage.

However, the health crisis, which is seriously affecting all EU citizens, has particularly highlighted professions, trades and services on the front line, very often at low wages in many European countries.

Establishing a European framework for more adequate minimum wages will also help to improve the working conditions and attractiveness of these professions under stress.

Raising the amount of minimum wages also helps to combat the growing number of working poor in times of economic crisis.

You have conducted many collective negotiations in your career. Why is it important to promote collective negotiations in all European countries?

Social dialogue must be promoted in Europe and is also one of the fundamental conventions of the ILO (in particular the 1949 Convention on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining).

Member States with high collective bargaining coverage generally have a low proportion of low-wage workers, less wage inequality and therefore contribute to making minimum wages more adequate.

In general, collective bargaining between employers' and employees' representatives improves the working conditions of employees and the overall performance of organizations.

What are the concrete effects expected from this directive in the EU Member States?

In concrete terms, the establishment of a framework making a minimum wage of a decent level compulsory in all EU Member States should make it possible to improve the social protection of workers and to encourage collective bargaining, and thus the level of coverage in terms of minimum wages.

Parliamentary work will soon begin on the basis of this proposed directive to set, for example, stable and clear criteria for setting minimum wages. This means, however, that the directive will not impose a precise amount for this minimum wage in all countries, but criteria that will have to be respected as a minimum (e.g. the criterion of a percentage of the gross median wage, 60%...).

What role did the French delegation in the Renew group in the European Parliament play in the development of this directive? What steps remain to be taken before the vote on this resolution?

Firstly, the implementation of a minimum wage adapted to each country was one of the campaign proposals of the French Renaissance team, which is today the largest delegation of the Renew Europe political group, the third largest political force in the European Parliament.

This issue was therefore included in our strategic objectives for the 2019-2024 mandate. It should also be noted that the setting of a European framework for a minimum wage is far from being consensual either in our group or in most of the other political components, because it is approached very differently from one country to another (set either by law or by collective bargaining in very different ways).

On the basis of the Commission's proposal for a directive, the European Parliament, and more specifically the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, will appoint rapporteurs and rework this initial text in the form of a trialogue (Council, Commission and Parliament) to arrive at a final compromise text that takes account of all political differences and can be adopted in Parliament.

This process can take months, as with most legislation put to the vote in the Parliament.