Minimum wage

People must be able to earn a living through their work

Nearly all the Member States of the European Union are used to having a statutory minimum wage. In Germany, the debate about the introduction of a minimum wage is one of the important topics in present-day politics. Whereas Germans are still arguing about it, throughout the world, at least in many industrial countries, it has long been a fact of life. In 20 out of the 27 EU Member States, in the USA, Canada and Australia, even in China and Russia, there are minimum wages, even if they are variable ones.

Working but poor?

In fact, there are significant differences worldwide as to how high the minimum wage is and and how it is defined. But even if the actual goal is not always achieved, the underlying idea is similar: those who work must be able to earn their living through their work and must be able to live in dignity.

In Germany too, this is no longer true for a growing number of people, owing to an expanding low-wage sector and irregular and vulnerable forms of employment. "Low wages make Germany poor. Working but poor." This is the slogan of the DGB minimum-wage campaign. According to a DGB survey in 2007, about 1.3 million workers (around 500,000 of them working full time), were unable to earn a living wage in spite of being in employment.

Minimum wage as a way out

A statutory minimum wage is not a universal remedy for poverty either, but it does prevent the wage-dumping spiral from continuing on its downward path. It also ensures that the work people do is again held in fundamentally high esteem.

We have been able to gather dozens of positive examples of the impact of a minimum wage from all over the world. They also contradict one of the main arguments of the opponents of the minimum wage, which is that the minimum wage destroys jobs. Great Britain, for instance, where there has been a uniform national minimum wage since 1999, is a country that proves the opposite. Instead of declining, employment in Great Britain has risen since this time, especially in those sectors where workers are often paid the minimum wage.

The USA has also had a statutory minimum wage since 1938. The Federal Government in Washington determines the level at which it is set (5.15 US dollars is the current rate). The individual states, however, are allowed to set their own higher levels, even for individual regions. Currently, Santa Fe County in New Mexico has the highest minimum wage in the USA, namely 10.50 US dollars.

Securing a livelihood worldwide

Of course there will not be statutory or negotiated minimum wages all over the world in the near future, especially not in many developing and emerging countries. But people who work must be able to earn their livelihood through their work, they must be able to live and work in dignity and with security, whether their earnings are decided on at company level, whether their wages have been negotiated in a collective bargaining process, or whether they are recipients of a statutory minimum wage. This is what is meant by decent work worldwide. This is what workers' organisations and initiatives all over the world are striving for, this is the goal of international conventions and codes.