EU wage austerity condemned by Council of Europe

The reduction of the minimum wage for workers under 25 – as part of the austerity programme imposed on Greece by the EU and other creditors – has been condemned as “excessive”, and “discrimination on grounds of age”, and contrary to the Council of Europe European Social Charter (ESC).

The judgement was delivered by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the main monitoring body to the European Social Charter, following a complaint by Greek trade union GSEE and supported by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

The ECSR also found that the legislation implementing austerity measures during 2010-2014 violated several other articles of the European Social Charter setting out

  • the right of the worker to earn his/her living;
  • to provide reasonable daily and weekly working hours, and the working week to be progressively reduced;
  • the right of workers to remuneration that will give them and their families a decent standard of living;
  • the right of all workers to a reasonable period of notice for termination of employment;
  • the right of employed persons under 18 years of age to at least four weeks’ annual holiday with pay; and
  • the right of workers and their representatives to determine and improve their working conditions.

This follows similar condemnations by the UN, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other Council of Europe bodies.

That the EU should pursue debt at the cost of workers’ rights and the standards of living of the lowest paid is unforgivable, and has rightly been condemned,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC Confederal Secretary. “The EU needs to completely revise its attitude towards austerity and wages. Higher wages are the engine of growth, not a cost which threatens economic recovery. Cutting wages starts a cycle of decline from which it is very hard for an economy to recover.

The judgement also sends a warning to countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and Ireland that have lower minimum wages for young workers, and Germany where workers under 24 do not get the minimum wage.”

In addition to imposing unfair – and counter-productive – wage cuts in Greece (and other debtor countries), EU economic recommendations are frequently critical of minimum wages increases. The European Commission’s 2017 Country Specific Recommendations criticised the level of minimum wages in France and Portugal, as well as increases in minimum wages in Bulgaria and Romania.

The ECSR Decision on the merits of Collective Complaint N° 111/2014 can be found at:  (English version) (French version)

The Committee of Ministers Resolution CM/ResChS(2017)9 concerning the follow-up to give to this ECSR Decision can be found at: (English version) (French version)