Workers struggle to make ends meet due to bogus minimum wages

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Minimum wages are so far below the official low-wage threshold in many EU countries that many workers would struggle to make a living, shows an ETUC briefing paper published today.

Minimum wages would have to increase by 62% in Spain, 28% in Germany and 22% in the UK just to reach a level below the low-wage threshold (set by the OECD at two-thirds of the national median wage).

In 10 EU countries, the minimum wage is at or below 50% of the national median wage – clearly making it difficult for those on the minimum wage to make a living from the money they earn.

See table below

Country Minimum wage as % of national full-time median wage % minimum wage would have to increase to reach 60% of national full-time median wage Amount in Euros minimum wage would have to increase to reach 60% of national full-time median wage
Belgium 50 20% 1.86
UK 49 22% 1.97
Greece 48 25% 0.84
Slovakia 48 25% 0.63
Germany 47 28% 2.45
Netherlands 45 33% 3.17
Ireland 45 33% 3.08
Estonia 41 46% 1.29
Czech Republic 40 51% 1.25
Spain 37 62% 2.67


“Minimum wages are far too low” said Esther Lynch, ETUC Confederal Secretary. “The EU should set a target date for statutory minimum wages to reach at least 60% of the median wage, and then living wages. Obviously, this cannot be done overnight, but the target should be set across the EU, and Member States should sit down with national trade unions and employers to discuss how to get there and when.

Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa’s Regional Secretary, said “increasing minimum wages to 60% of the median or average wage in each country would greatly reduce in-work poverty and drive economic growth. An EU target for statutory minimum wages would not interfere with collectively bargained minimum wages in terms of the level negotiated, or how they are agreed.”

Some EU countries have such low wages that minimum wages are closer to 2/3 of national median wage without necessarily being enough to live on, e.g. in Romania and Bulgaria.

The ETUC will be pressing for minimum wages to be increased as part of an action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.

More info

  • The briefing paper with data from 19 EU countries with national statutory minimum wages can be found here.
  • 22 out of 28 Member States have a nationwide statutory minimum wage, but Bulgaria, Croatia and Malta do not appear in the OECD database used for this press release and briefing paper.
  • Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden have sectoral minimum wages determined by collective agreement; and Cyprus has statutory minimum wages for certain occupational groups.