Member states will hopefully reach a common position on the definition of EU minimum wages before the end of Portugal’s presidency of the Council, which runs until June, European Commissioner for employment, Nicolas Schmit, told Lusa.pt, highlighting the “efforts” made by Portugal to that end.
“I have my wishes and that would mean reaching an agreement on a common position in the Council … as soon as possible, but it would be good if it could be during the Portuguese presidency,” Schmit told Lusa in Brussels.
He stressed that he did not want to “speculate on when there might be a common position” between member states, but noted that “the Portuguese presidency is making a lot of effort in this area” to achieve an agreement.
“I do not want to interfere in discussions at Council level, so we will see,” he said.
Alluding to Portugal’s objective of reaching a compromise text in the Council on the new directive on European minimum salaries, Schmit stressed that “the process is moving forward” towards that end.
“We have a report on minimum wages, or at least a draft report, and we have discussions at the Council level and especially in the Council’s working group,” he said.
When asked if any kind of compromise could be reached during the Social Summit scheduled for 7 May in Porto, the commissioner said he did not expect “a solution on minimum wages or other issues that are under discussion” to be reached so soon, speaking rather of a “political signal” to be given in this policy area.
The definition of a fair and adequate European minimum wages is one of the elements of the negotiation of the action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which Portugal wants to see approved during its EU Council presidency, despite differences among the 27 member states.
The Social Pillar is a non-binding text to promote these rights in the EU in which reference is made to pay, among other issues, with the argument that “Workers have the right to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living.”
Last October, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal on European minimum wages, but there have been difficulties in the negotiations in the Council. As a result, the commission has stressed that it does not want to impose amounts on countries, but rather indicators to ensure a decent quality of life for workers.
EU treaties recognise the competence of each member state in setting wages, but the commission has used a flexible interpretation that includes wages in working conditions – which are covered by EU law.
Currently, 21 member states have a minimum wage defined by law, while in the remaining six – Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden – such benchmarks are set through collective bargaining. It is mainly these six countries that oppose the concept, but employers’ associations are also against the proposal, arguing that the directive could jeopardise the viability of businesses already badly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The commission has already completely ruled out the idea of a single minimum wage applicable in all 27 states.
Figures released by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, show that at the beginning of this year, the gross minimum wage in the EU ranged from €332 in Bulgaria to €2,202 in Luxembourg. Portugal’s ranks 10th at €776 (recalculated to take account of the fact that the actual minimum salary is paid in 14 instalments).
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]