As yet there is no consensus on the issue of minimum wages in Germany. Two recent bills reveal the depth of the disagreement. On September 1, 2012, the Bremen State Minimum Wage Act (Bremer Landesmindestlohngesetz ) entered into force, which established a minimum wage exclusively for employees of this north-western state. Barely three weeks later, the German Federal Council forwarded to the German Federal Parliament a bill for a minimum-wage act designated for the Federal Republic as a whole.
Germany is sharply divided over the introduction of minimum wages. This is especially apparent in comparison with the other Member States of the European Union. For the year 2011, the German Federal Statistical Office reported about 20 Member States in which a statutory monthly minimum wage was applicable (in considerably differing amounts, of course). These ranged from €123 in Bulgaria to €1,758 in Luxembourg.
In Germany, the introduction of a generally applicable statutory minimum wage has been denied for reasons pertaining primarily to constitutional law. The German Basic Law (Grundgesetz ) protects freedom of association, which, inter alia, reserves for the bargaining parties the determination of remuneration for work, along with working conditions. In recent years, however, the lack of a minimum wage in Germany has increasingly come under criticism. As a consequence, numerous bills were proposed, most of which failed.
However, on the basis of the Minimum Working Conditions Act (Mindestarbeitsbedingungengesetz ), binding minimum wages have been introduced recently for certain sectors nationwide. In this context, there is still a distinction between the states of the former East Germany (the "new federal states") and those of the former West Germany (the "old federal states"), with Berlin generally included with the new federal states. The level mandated for the new federal states is usually approximately €1 less than that of the old federal states. The following chart shows the minimum hourly rates, in euros, for certain sectors in the old federal states as of August 1, 2012:
Regardless of whether the employer is a member of an employer's association, the minimum wages apply automatically, and the employee may request the difference to an individually agreed lower salary on the basis of the statutory claim before the labor courts.
The Bremen State Minimum Wage Ac t
The aim of the Bremen State Minimum Wage Act, effective September 1, 2012, is to ensure that the employees of public or publicly financed and supported companies receive a minimum wage, which is currently fixed at €8.50 per hour. The Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund ) requested that a similar law be introduced in Lower Saxony. It should be noted that minimum-wage regulations already exist in many federal states in connection with public procurement, with other states planning to introduce them. Indeed, as of this writing, only the states of Bavaria, Hesse, and Saxony have not established minimum wages for this sector.
Bill for a National Minimum-Wage Law
The aim of the Federal Council's bill (printed paper 542/12 of the Federal Council) is to ensure by means of a national minimum wage that full-time employment generates an income sufficient to live on. The amount of the minimum wage is to be secured and annually reviewed by an independent commission. According to the bill, interference with the basic right of freedom of association, as mentioned above, is justified by the need to protect the common welfare. Whether the Federal Parliament will agree is uncertain. While there is little support for the bill among current members, a new balance of parties in the 2013 elections could lead to its eventual passage.
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