Germany’s minimum postal wage ruled illegal

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The introduction by the German government of a minimum wage of €9.80 an hour for all postal workers has been ruled illegal by a Berlin court, marking a victory for foreign operators wishing to enter the country’s recently opened postal market.

“The application of the minimum wage to the entire postal sector does not conform with the law,” the Berlin Administrative Court stated on 7 March, arguing that the imposition of a €9.80 hourly rate violated the basic rights of the plaintiffs, Dutch and German postal services companies TNT and PIN. 

The introduction of the new salary threshold had been driven by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition. 

The SPD has been campaigning in favour of a nationwide minimum wage ahead of general elections in September 2009 in a bid to set it apart from Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU), which fears a statutory minimum wage could drive jobs out of Germany. 

The introduction of sectoral minimum wages, such as that in the postal sector, had been accepted as a compromise, but the Court’s decision could force the government to review its decision. 

Germany's Labour Ministry said it would appeal the decision. "The labour and social affairs ministry considers the decision wrong," it said in a statement. 

Dutch postal group TNT said the ruling was a "first step towards a level playing field" in Europe and "good news for us and for our customers and employees in Germany". A higher rate would have left it with unacceptable start-up losses and prevented it from entering Germany's mail delivery market, it said. "It shows you can do business in Germany. Because some people had started to doubt that," said a TNT spokesman. 

But the public sector trade union Ver.di, which represents Deutsche Post, said the court's decision was "fully incomprehensible" and was likely to be struck down. 

The German Government decided last December to accompany the full liberalisation of its postal sector with the introduction of a minimum hourly wage of €9.80. 

But Dutch postal operator TNT, which currently pays its German workers €7.50 an hour, refused to comply with the rate. It accused Germany of attempting to shield its formerly state-owned mail monopoly Deutsche Post from any competition and lodged a lawsuit with a Berlin commercial court in a bid to have its alternative minimum wage declared valid. 

In the meantime, the Dutch government decided to delay its planned 1 January 2008 mail market opening until a level playing field is created. 

The dispute highlights the difficulties linked to the practical implementation of new EU rules on opening up European postal markets to competition. 

  • Mid 2008: Dutch government expected to give full postal liberalisation the go-ahead.
  • 31 Dec. 2010:  Deadline for EU member states to abolish existing legal monopolies on postal services (31 Dec. 2012 for the nine member states that joined the EU after 2004, as well as Greece and Luxembourg).

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