Merkel calls for legal minimum wage


HALFWAY THROUGH her second term, chancellor Angela Merkel has made a pre-emptive strike to secure a third term by asking her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to back a statutory minimum wage.

After decades of opposing such a move, CDU delegates at a party conference in two weeks’ time will debate plans to introduce a “market-based lower limit for wages” of at least €6.89 an hour. The move appears designed to boost the CDU’s social credentials before the 2013 election. But it risks alienating further CDU conservatives who accuse Dr Merkel of destroying the party’s traditional profile to chase floating voters.

After the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the German leader discarded a decades-old CDU consensus to end nuclear power in Germany; she has also ended compulsory military service. Now she seems anxious to tackle one of few holy grails left in CDU policy.

A party conference document leaked yesterday reads: “We want a lower limit on wages, decided by the social partners and thus market-based.”

The document insists the CDU is not interested in a “political minimum wage”, a nod to decades-old policy of allowing employers and unions set their own pay scales. This, so the argument goes, was the best way to reflect the vast differences from one region and sector to another in Germany.

But this tradition – and with it opposition to a statutory minimum wage – has been crumbling since reforms to liberalise Germany’s labour market a decade ago. In recent years, Berlin has already intervened to set minimum wages in low pay sectors such as contract cleaning and construction.

The CDU plan is likely to extend such a minimum pay scale to all labour sectors not covered by traditional agreements between employers and unions. A party commission is likely to link a minimum wage to existing rates for temporary workers – €6.89 in eastern regions and €7.79 in the west.

“The question is no longer whether we will have a minimum wage rather how one agrees the correct wage level,” said CDU labour minister Ursula von der Leyen.

By seizing the nettle now, Dr Merkel not only has time to face down internal opponents before 2013, she has also stolen a march on the opposition social democrats. They had planned to make a minimum wage a cornerstone of their election campaign.