Data Employment and labor

Working poverty rises in Europe

The number of workers at risk of poverty has increased in 16 countries in the EU. In response the European Trade Union Confederation is calling for the European Commission’s Minimum Wage directive to prohibit the setting of wages below the poverty threshold.

Published on 30 March 2021 at 16:00

According to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the number of working poor has increased over the past nine years in the majority of EU Member States. Between 2010 and 2019 the percentage of workers at risk of poverty increased in 16 countries, according to Eurostat. 

The rise averaged 12% and was largest in Hungary (58%), the UK (51%), Estonia (43%), Italy (28%) and Luxembourg (27%). 

The absolute proportion of workers at risk of poverty is 9.4% on average in the EU. The highest figures are in Luxembourg (13.5%), Spain (12.7%), Italy (12.2%), Portugal (10.8 %) and the UK (10.3%). France, at 7%, has seen a 9% increase..

Working poverty particularly affects young people, migrant workers and part-time workers. 

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Last October the European Commission launched plans for a new minimum-wage directive. ETUC proposes that the directive contain a clause to stop wages being set below the poverty threshold, determined as 60% of the median wage and 50% of the average wage. 

The Confederation also calls for a ban on allocating public funds to companies that deny their workers the right to bargain collectively. "Collective bargaining is the best way to ensure that workers receive their fair share of the profits earned, but this directive needs to be amended if it is to ensure that member states support trade unions so that more employers accept collective agreements,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC deputy Secretary General. 

Finally, ETUC would like domestic workers and young people no longer to be excluded from the legal minimum wage.

"It is shocking that, despite economic growth, the number of workers living in poverty is higher today than at the peak of the financial crisis. Clearly the EU must act, " said Esther Lynch.

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