MEPs reach deal to protect EU workers in 'writing of socio-political history'

MEPs reach deal to protect EU workers in 'writing of socio-political history'
A gathering of trade unions on the occasion of the international day of action of platform workers, in Brussels, Wednesday 24 February 2021. Credit: Belga / Nils Quintelier

The European Parliament has reached a preliminary agreement for adequate minimum wages for workers in the European Union which aims to ensure a decent standard of living.

On Tuesday morning, it was announced that, after a night of debates, an agreement on minimum wages was agreed on. "We are writing social policy history in Europe," the European Parliament's chief negotiator and co-rapporteur Dennis Radtke said.

"For the first time, an EU framework will make a direct contribution to ensuring that people are fairly remunerated for their work."

In total, the minimum wage will be increased for some 24 million workers in the bloc, however, it will in the first instance "significantly improve the lives of millions of workers with low and sometimes existence-threatening wages."

"This is an important message to send, that the European Parliament is not just about words, but also about actions, so we can prove that the pillar of social rights is a reality," Dragoș Pîslaru, Chair of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, said, adding that this is an "important moment for all workers in the EU."

A total of 21 in 27 countries have a statutory minimum wage, while in the other six, wage levels are determined through collective bargaining, resulting in monthly minimum wages varying widely across the EU, ranging from €332 in Bulgaria to €2,202 in Luxembourg.

Protecting workers

As part of the new agreement, EU Member States will have to assess whether their existing statutory minimum wages — referring to the lowest wage permitted by law — are adequate to ensure that people who work can have a decent standard of living. This is to lower the risk of in-work poverty, which still affects many people in the EU.

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The agreement also stressed the importance of protecting workers if rules are violated. This also includes the strengthening of sectoral and cross-industry collective bargaining.

In Member States where less than 80% of the workforce is protected by a collective agreement, an action plan to progressively increase coverage will be created. The text also includes the setting up of an enforcement system, including reliable monitoring, controls and field inspections, among others.

The provisional agreement will first have to be approved first by the EU Employment and Social Affairs Committee, followed by a plenary vote. The Council also has to approve the deal. It has already been welcomed by the European Commission, which originally proposed a Directive on adequate minimum wages in October 2020.

Minimum wages can be ensured by either collective bargaining between employers and trade unions (“the social partners”) or legislation in the form of statutory minimum wages.

When the Commission launched its initiative, it assured that it would aim to ensure that both “well-functioning collective bargaining in wage-setting is in place” and that “national frameworks allow for statutory minimum wages to be set and regularly updated according to clear and stable criteria”.

“The EU has delivered on its promise. The new rules on minimum wages will protect the dignity of work and make sure that work pays. All of this will be done in full respect of national traditions and social partners’ autonomy," President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said.


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