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French: Low German wages are unfair on us

A French economy minister has launched a scathing attack on Germany’s ‘unfair’ wage policy “which he claims is based on who can pay workers the least”. The attack was timed just days before the Germans goes to the polls.

French: Low German wages are unfair on us
Photo: DPA

France’s consumer affairs minister Benoît Hamon slammed Germany’s policy of keeping pay artificially low for being “unfair” on France.

Speaking to the BBC on a visit to an Optic 2000 factory, which creates eyewear in France, Hamon said “some countries in Europe are getting around employment directives and underpaying their workers.”

Hamon lamented Germany’s wage policy, which has helped keep the cost of German products down compared to “Made in France” goods.

“I want Germany to have a social policy where competitiveness doesn’t rely on jobs paying €400 a month,” he said.

“I want Germany not to base its agricultural economy on salaries of seven euros an hour. That’s what I want from the next German government.

“I want it to play fair with an economic model that isn’t based on a competition for who can pay workers the least.

“We are pitting workers at seven euros against those who earn 10, 11 or 14 an hour. That can’t work within the same territory. It’s not possible. It can’t work,” Hamon said.

France is struggling to kick-start its economy and the Socialist government has made a big push to promote the “Made in France” brand to try to boost its manufacturing industry.

But the high cost of wages compared to its neighbours on the other side of the Rhine river means France has lost its competitive edge to Germany in recent years.

Hamon does have a history of launching barbs at Germany. Earlier this year, he targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel, claiming her austerity policy had failed.

Should Germany introduce a national minimum wage? Take part in our debate here

Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations in Paris told The Local that Hamon does have a fair point when it comes to wage policies.

“There are examples in certain industries where low wages have helped give German firms an advantage over French ones, such as abattoirs.

“They have paid mainly temporary migrants from Eastern Europe €5 an hour to work and live in conditions of extreme poverty. But under French law, abattoirs are not allowed to pay such miserly wages, which has helped the ones in Germany to flourish.

“In an area like the Eurozone the wage policies of each country can have a heavy impact in other countries.

“This means the agreement that member states are free to compete with each other is often a race to the bottom, where working conditions, for example, are not compatible with the kind of Europe we want,” Klau said.

With Germany facing elections on Sunday and current Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main opponent Peer Steinbrück vowing to introduce a statutory, national minimum wage, Hamon’s attack appears perfectly timed.

Ben McPartland

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ECONOMY

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is slowing down the economy and accelerating inflation in Germany, the Ifo Institute has claimed.

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

According to the Munich-based economics institute, inflation is expected to rise from 5.1 to 6.1 percent in March. This would be the steepest rise in consumer prices since 1982.

Over the past few months, consumers in Germany have already had to battle with huge hikes in energy costs, fuel prices and increases in the price of other everyday commodities.

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With Russia and Ukraine representing major suppliers of wheat and grain, further price rises in the food market are also expected, putting an additional strain on tight incomes. 

At the same time, the ongoing conflict is set to put a dampener on the country’s annual growth forecasts. 

“We only expect growth of between 2.2 and 3.1 percent this year,” Ifo’s head of economic research Timo Wollmershäuser said on Wednesday. 

Due to the increase in the cost of living, consumers in Germany could lose around €6 billion in purchasing power by the end of March alone.

With public life in Germany returning to normal and manufacturers’ order books filling up, a significant rebound in the economy was expected this year. 

But the war “is dampening the economy through significantly higher commodity prices, sanctions, increasing supply bottlenecks for raw materials and intermediate products as well as increased economic uncertainty”, Wollmershäuser said.

Because of the current uncertainly, the Ifo Institute calculated two separate forecasts for the upcoming year.

In the optimistic scenario, the price of oil falls gradually from the current €101 per barrel to €82 by the end of the year, and the price of natural gas falls in parallel.

In the pessimistic scenario, the oil price rises to €140 per barrel by May and only then falls to €122 by the end of the year.

Energy costs have a particularly strong impact on private consumer spending.

They could rise between 3.7 and 5 percent, depending on the developments in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and the German government’s ability to source its energy. 

On Wednesday, German media reported that the government was in the process of thrashing out an additional set of measures designed to support consumers with their rising energy costs.

The hotly debated measures are expected to be finalised on Wednesday evening and could include increased subsidies, a mobility allowance, a fuel rebate and a child bonus for families. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

In one piece of positive news, the number of unemployed people in Germany should fall to below 2.3 million, according to the Ifo Institute.

However, short-time work, known as Kurzarbeit in German, is likely to increase significantly in the pessimistic scenario.

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