A three-day conference called “Trade Union Challenges in Defining Wage Growth in the EU” was organized in Madrid by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI). Trade unionists from the Czech Republic, Romania, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Estonia, Bulgaria participated in the conference, and Croatia was represented by the president of the Croatian Journalists Union, Maja Sever.
ETUI’s Torsten Müller gave a presentation on “Wages and Collective Bargaining in Europe”, addressing the post-crisis wage situation and the opportunities for European wage policy. He stressed that the minimum wage had not returned to pre-crisis levels. “Compared to 2009, the salary in 2018. is still two percent lower. Wages have fallen more in the member states”, Muller said.
According to the information presented at the conference, Croatia ranked at the back of the pay scale in Europe and behind us is only Greece, which has been hit more severely by the economic crisis.
Muller questions why wages do not rise more after the crisis, and one of the answers is weakening unions and less collective bargaining. He explained the differences in European countries. Thus, Germany and the Netherlands recommend creating the conditions for promoting higher wage growth and strengthening the role and cooperation of social partners, while in most other countries it is not changing much and any attempt of collective bargaining is being demoralized.
EU policy should aim at strengthening collective bargaining and setting collective bargaining agreements as an explicit objective, and should regulate minimum wage at EU level. ETUI promotes support for national unions and enhances mutual cooperation between member unions.
“Strengthening trade unions should be done in such a way as to increase confidence in trade unions, but also to publicize and warn about problems with trade union activities and, of course, joint actions. States should regulate collective bargaining in large companies and promote the public values of a collective bargaining agreement”, Torsten Muller explained.
A living wage for a dignified life
The discussion compared the priorities of collective bargaining at the national level of the countries whose representatives attended the seminar. Most agreed that regulating the minimum wage was one of the priorities, but with an emphasis on equalizing that wage in the EU countries.
The minimum wage is the lowest compensation that employers can legally pay their workers. It is defined by law, often after consultation with the social partners, or directly through a national cross-sectoral agreement.
Unlike the minimum wage – the goal of a living wage is to allow a worker to afford a basic but decent standard of living through employment without government grants, a wage sufficient not only to support themselves but also to raise a family. Many campaigns have been launched so far that aim to promote and support this concept and its importance.
The consequences of the pay gap were discussed at the conference also. Most participants agreed that the wage gap was one of the main reasons for economic migration within the EU (more than 200,000 people left Croatia), but also that unions should be more actively involved in these processes.
Discussion was also held on how to improve the work of the Unions. Colleagues presented their campaigns and activities, which are mainly based on communication with members and colleagues, working in the field and using new tools available to uUnions. The conference participants agreed that promotion on the Internet and social networks should be done with the help of professionals, not expecting anyone to do it in their spare time.
The final conclusion of the conference was that for a better work and for a better future, the SOLIDARITY was still the key word.