Low wages leave 3 million workers without heating

Low wages mean almost three million people can’t afford to heat their homes despite being in work, an analysis of EU data for the ETUC has found as energy prices rocket across Europe.  

On the first day of autumn and with winter looming, 15% of Europe’s working poor won’t be able to turn on the heating – equivalent to 2,713,578 people across Europe.

That situation has got worse in 10 EU member states over the last decade and now soaring electricity prices across Europe risk plunging even more workers into energy poverty.

Highest percentage of working poor who can’t afford heating (see table 1 for full results)

Cyprus – 45.6
Bulgaria – 42.8
Lithuania – 34.5
Portugal – 30.6
Greece – 28.7
Italy – 26.1

Highest percentage point increase in working poor who can’t afford heating since 2009 (see table 2 for full results)

Croatia – 16.5
Cyprus – 10
Lithuania – 7.9
Slovakia – 7.8
Spain – 6
Italy – 5.2

Energy price rises make strong EU action on wages even more urgent.

Trade unions are calling on the European Parliament to insulate workers against energy poverty by introducing a ‘threshold of decency’ into the draft EU directive on minimum wages which would ensure that statutory minimum wages guarantee a decent standard of living and could never be paid at less than 60% of the median wage and 50% of the average wage of any member state.

Currently 20 EU member states have statutory minimum wages below this level and the EU’s draft directive on minimum wages would not change this as it stands.

Amendments are also needed to raise the number of workers covered by collective bargaining across Europe as the best way to achieve genuinely fair pay.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch said:

“There are millions of low paid workers in Europe who have to choose between heating their home or feeding their family properly or paying the rent despite working full time. That is unacceptable and defeats the whole point of a minimum wage.

“Unfortunately, rising energy prices mean even more people face returning from a long day or night’s work to a cold home this winter and their children doing their homework in the cold.

“It’s time for Europe to draw a line, make sure minimum wages never leave workers worried about turning the heating on and raise rates of collective bargaining as the best way to genuinely fair wages.”


The figures are based on Eurostat microdata analysed by the European Trade Union Institute.

The figures refer only to the number of workers who earn less than 60% of the national median equivalised income. They do not include those who earn below 50% of the national average wage, meaning there are likely to be many more working people struggling to make ends meet.

Table 1 

Member state % of working poor who can’t afford heating Number of working poor who can’t afford heating
Cyprus 45.6 14,398
Bulgaria 42.8 129,990
Lithuania 34.5 35,371
Portugal 30.6 157,612
Greece 28.7 122,323
Italy 26.1 833,311
Croatia 16.5 15,902
Spain 15.7 391,186
Romania 15.1 193,990
France 13.3 298,665
Slovakia 13.2 16,961
Latvia 11.3 9,241
Ireland 9.8 10,108
Malta 9.8 1,620
Czechia 8.4 16,224
Belgium 8.4 21,680
Germany 7.9 237,482
Hungary 6.8 25,843
Poland 6.5 113,898
Netherlands 6.5 32,027
Slovenia 4.4 2,071
Luxembourg 3 1,017
Estonia 2.8 1,947
Austria 2.5 7,899
EU27 average 15 2,713,578

Table 2

Member state Percentage point increase in share of working poor who cannot heat their home since 2009
Croatia 16.5
Cyprus 10.1
Lithuania 7.9
Slovakia 7.8
Spain 6
Italy 5.2
Ireland 4.9
Netherlands 2.2
Luxembourg 1.6
Estonia 1.6