Brussels (Brussels Morning) The minimum wage is a threshold above which there is dignity, below which there is exploitation. It is the dividing line between work and poverty. The following figures make clear the extent to which the working poor phenomenon is an emergency: 9.6% of European workers have a wage below the contractual minimum, and in Italy this percentage rises to 12%. This means that in Italy, one out of eight workers earns too little money. In the last decade, the number of working poor has increased by 12% in Europe and 28% in Italy.
This means that instead of growing, workers’ paychecks are shrinking. This data reflects what could be the beginning of a very dangerous avalanche for the rights of every one of us, as the effects of the pandemic on the world of work are actually yet to be felt. That is why we must act as soon as possible by adopting the minimum wage directive.
The proposals we have tabled at the European Parliament finetune the criteria advanced by the Commission for determining when a minimum wage is a truly fair wage: it must never be below the relative poverty line and must be above 50% of the average gross wage and 60% of the median gross wage. These criteria are a means of pushing lower end-of-the-range salaries upwards.
We must beware of tricks and sleights of hand. The minimum wage must in no way be tied to company productivity. Because the minimum wage is just that: ’a minimum wage’, and there must be no deductions. So any benefits, indemnities or tools necessary for the performance of the job, such as for example a computer or a telephone or a bicycle, cannot be considered part of a salary.
The minimum wage must be transparent, understandable and tangible for all workers. Only in this way can we truly protect the social rights of citizens and contribute to the birth of a New Europe, in which work is no longer synonymous with poverty or social exclusion.
In Italy and in five other European countries, there is no minimum wage established by law. In all the other 21 countries, the minimum wage is enshrined in law, but this is often not enough to really protect workers. In too many countries, especially those of the east, the labour market has become a type of bait to attract large companies that are able to pay their employees very low wages, not least because collective wage bargaining is very weak.
Here is what happens: a worker, often from a multinational or large company, receives a letter from their employer. Inside there is a request that sounds a lot like blackmail: either you move to a country where labour costs are lower or you lose your job. For Italian workers it is impossible to leave family, home and loved ones and therefore in most cases they decide to leave their jobs. These are called ‘relocations’ and are a mortal threat to the ‘Made in Italy’ phenomenon.
The European minimum wage directive puts an end to this scandalous situation because its aim is to raise wages right across Europe, and especially in those countries where they are lower. Only in this way can the problem of social dumping, which creates unfair competition within the European single market, be tackled at source.
But this is not all: we want to introduce a sort of social conditionality on the basis of which those who do not respect the rights of workers will no longer be able to access direct and indirect European funding and will not be able to participate in public tenders or sub-contracting procedures.
Profit is essential, but rights come first.
We believe that the European minimum wage must also be extended to all workers, without exception: from domestic workers to on-call workers, from occasional workers to voucher-scheme workers, from atypical workers to trainees, apprentices and interns.
Finally, it is of paramount importance to lay down that companies that do not comply with the collective bargaining rules provided for by the directive cannot access public or European funding. With these proposals we are bolstering social protection for citizens. Let’s build a social Europe now, or in the post-pandemic period we will find ourselves with an army of working poor.