Half of EU countries exclude workers from minimum wage

Workers in half of EU member states are being deprived of the statutory minimum wage based on their age, occupation or because they are workers with disability, ETUC research has found.

Workers are most commonly excluded from statutory minimum wages and are paid below-minimum rates based on age discrimination, with 8 member states deducting up to 70% of the real rate for under-21s.

An 18-year-old working full time in the Netherlands would earn just 10.917 Euro in a year instead of the 21.835 Euro minimum (excluding vacation payments).

Some member states also allow discrimination against seasonal workers, domestic workers, seafarers or workers with disabilities – as in Portugal where people with disabilities can be paid just half of the statutory minimum wage.

Some exclusions (including below-minimum rates) from the statutory minimum wage by member state:

Young people: Germany, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania
Other: Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary (public works workers, domestic workers), Malta (seafarers), Portugal (workers with disability), Spain …

The ETUC’s findings are based on the conclusions of Council of Europe investigations into violations of the right to fair remuneration, and the European Commission’s impact assessment of its proposed directive on “adequate minimum wages.”

The Commission’s document states that, rather than facilitating access to the labour market, variations from the statutory minimum wage “can exacerbate existing inequalities for vulnerable groups of workers.”

Trade unions are working with MEPs to push for the introduction of a ban of exclusions from statutory minimum wages, including below-minimum rates, which the Council of Europe says in various cases violate human rights standards.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch said:

“The fundamental concept of a minimum wage is being undermined across Europe by loopholes in the law which allow big businesses to treat young people, women and migrant workers as cheap labour.

“Instead of helping the most vulnerable in society get into work, these exclusions from statutory minimum wage protection are helping to keep them in poverty.

“Paying sub-minimum wages which are very often in violation of international human rights standards should be banned across Europe.

“These workers do the same jobs, pay the same taxes, their food and rent cost the same, so there is no justification to pay them less”.

Council of Europe conclusions: : https://hudoc.esc.coe.int/eng/#{%22sort%22:[%22ESCPublicationDate%20Descending%22],%22ESCArticle%22:[%2207-05-000%22],%22ESCDcLanguage%22:[%22ENG%22],%22ESCDcType%22:[%22Conclusion%22],%22ESCDecisionType%22:[%22NC%22,%22D%22],%22ESCDcIdentifier%22:[%222015/def/SVK/7/5/EN%22]}

More information on the ETUC’s proposals for the directive can be found here: https://www.etuc.org/en/fair-minimum-wages-and-collective-bargaining