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23 February 2017

European wage experts discuss the need for an EU-wide living wage

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The debate about a living wage that goes beyond the subsistence level has gained momentum recently in light of the increase in low-wage work and in-work poverty, particularly since it has become abundantly clear that the current minimum wage levels in the EU countries are not sufficient to tackle these problems.

To address this debate, the ETUI organised an expert workshop on ‘Living Wages in Europe’ in cooperation with the Institute for Economic and Social Research (WSI) of the Hans Böckler Foundation in Germany on 7-8 February in Brussels. The aim of the workshop was to bring together experts on this issue in order to discuss the possibilities of promoting the living wage across Europe as one way of addressing the problem of in-work poverty and as a means to ensure a decent standard of living and participation in society for workers.

The workshop consisted of four parts. The first session served to set the scene, with Damian Grimshaw (University of Manchester) giving an overview of the concept of the living wage. This was followed by two more empirical presentations: the first by Thorsten Schulten (WSI) and Torsten Müller (ETUI) mapped key developments in minimum and living wages in the EU, while the second by Bettina Musiolek and Christa Luginbühl (Clean Clothes Campaign) widened the perspective by looking at wage developments in south-east European countries.

The second session dealt with the UK experience as the most advanced example of a living wage movement in Europe, with the key focus on what lessons were to be learned for the broader discussion in the EU. The presentation by Donald Hirsch (Loughborough University) on the rationale and politics involved in calculating the living wage in the UK was followed by two presentations from practitioners. Katherine Chapman (Living Wage Foundation) provided a detailed account of her organisation’s role and work in actually implementing the living wage in the UK, while Paul Seller from the TUC followed this with an account of how the UK living wage is perceived from a trade union perspective.

The third session took on a global perspective, with a presentation by Doug Miller (Northumbria University, Newcastle) on living wages in global supply chains in the clothing industry. The workshop was concluded with a panel discussion with Esther Lynch (ETUC) and Gilberto Pelosi (Social Platform), who debated the possibilities for a European approach to the issue of living wages and the role that the living wage plays in the broader context of the ETUC campaign ‘Europe needs a pay rise – it’s time for our recovery’.

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