On May 3rd, 2021, ahead of the EU Social Summit, AK EUROPA, the ÖGB Europabüro and the European Trade Union Confederation jointly hosted the online event “Fair wages in the EU - What does the EU Social Summit promise?”. Taking part in the debate were AK President Renate Anderl, ÖGB President Wolfgang Katzian as well as Esther Lynch (ETUC) and MEP Dennis Radtke.
The Social Summit in Porto is the pinnacle of the ambitious Portuguese Presidency, which has promoted many important trade union demands. It is also the place where the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights is to be solemnly proclaimed. AK EUROPA and ÖGB Europabüro in cooperation with ETUC have used the opportunity to draw attention to some important concerns facing the EU Social Summit: these include in particular the Proposal for a Minimum Wage Directive and the Proposal for a Pay Transparency Directive to finally close the Gender Pay Gap.
In his welcoming address, Oliver Röpke, Head of ÖGB Europabüro and President of the EESC Workers’ Group, said that some misinterpreted the nonbinding character of the European Pillar of Social Rights as an excuse to halt their commitment to a social Europe. However, the Pillar was a political obligation, which required taking concrete steps for implementation. Now would be the right time for that.
ÖGB President Wolfgang Katzian also expects concrete steps to guarantee living wages in Europe and to combat the pay gap in Europe. He welcomed the Proposal for a Directive on European minimum wages, which aims at promoting collective bargaining in all Member States. Reality proves that countries with a high level of collective bargaining have fewer low-wage earners and smaller pay gaps. Hence, he expects the Minimum Wage Directive to provide a higher wage level in the long-term which will enable the fight against underlying causes of wage and social dumping. It was therefore even more surprising for the ÖGB President that the Austrian government is one of the harshest critics of the Directive.
To take effective steps at last in order to guarantee equal pay for equal work is a demand of AK President Renate Anderl. In spite of many recommendations, the gender pay gap is still too wide: on average, women in the EU earn 14 % less, with Austria at 19 % being third from the bottom of the 27 Member States. Hence, the AK President finds the attitude not to talk about money particularly problematic. As long as incomes are not made transparent, it will be difficult to oppose wage inequalities. Sweden has a completely different mentality and therefore a significantly smaller gender pay gap. Due to the Europe-wide dimension of the gender pay gap, Renate Anderl regards the exemptions for companies with fewer than 250 employees in the Proposal on Wage Transparency as too far-reaching because, as a result, about half of the workforce would not be covered. What is needed now is an investment turbo, which creates well paid jobs to overcome the crisis. The far-reaching implementation of the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights is the opportunity to further close the gender pay gap and to promote a minimum wage.
EPP-MEP and co-rapporteur of the Minimum Wage Directive, Dennis Radtke, points out that he and co-rapporteur Agnes Jongerius (S&D) regard it as important not to turn this Directive Proposal into a party political power struggle. It was not the aim of the Directive to interfere in functioning collective bargaining systems. With regard to the Scandinavian trade unions, which are critical of the Minimum Wage Proposal, he says that political representatives could not cease working as legislators for fear of a new anti-employee ECJ ruling, similar to the one in the Laval case.
Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of ETUC, recalls that the Treaties on European Union stipulate a competitive social market economy. In particular, the EU must continue to work on this social component. The Proposal on the Minimum Wage Directive includes provisions to support trade union membership, which forms the basis for collective bargaining. What is currently happening in Europe is unfair competition due to wage dumping. Low income often affects occupational groups, who were applauded because of their role as system relevant (front workers), for example in the care, retail or transport sector. These employees must get their fair share. Only then will it be possible to build a resilient Europe.