Competitors and unions reacted cautiously to the news.
Lidl has couched the move as an attempt to stop “wage dumping” whereby retailers slash their prices to undercut competitors – and generally then have to cut their workers’ wages to remain profitable.
The head of Lidl’s parent company, Klaus Gehrig, revealed his enthusiasm for the idea in a letter to business academic Rudolf Hickel from the University of Bremen. The letter was also sent to several newspaper editors and was reported by the FTD.
The push by Germany’s second-largest supermarket chain comes as a surprise, and takes the debate on labour conditions in the retail sector in a new direction.
If the call for a sector-wide minimum wage were taken up, discount retailers would be biggest field after the building, cleaning and waste management sectors to have such an agreement between employers and employees.
“We share … your opinion, that a minimum wage definitely has to be established in the retail sector,” Gehrig wrote to Hickel. “This would eliminate the possibility for, and abuse of, wage dumping, which is seen in isolated cases in retail.”
Hickel had previously criticised Lidl in a television interview over the issue.
Several other retail firms, as well as the Independent Retailers’ Association (HDE) and the union Verdi, all indicated they were open to the idea without wanting to commit themselves.
A spokesman for Germany’s largest retailer, Metro, said: “We are open to a wage agreement, but strictly against a minimum wage set by the state.”
Acting Verdi head Margret Mönig-Raane said she welcomed the proposal if it was a serious one.
“Otherwise we are still far removed from such a regulation,” she said. ”Furthermore the central question remains open, how high such a minimum wage should be?”
The average wage for a trained salesperson is currently about €12 per hour.