Merkel's election rivals push minimum wage

AFP , Thursday 11 Jul 2013

SDP candidate Peer Steinbrueck says he would promote social justice ahead of September vote in Germany

Chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic party (SPD) Peer Steinbrueck replies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government policy statement in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, June 27, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's top election rivals, seeking to gain ground ahead of a September vote, on Thursday vowed to take on the plight of millions of working poor by pushing for a national minimum wage.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD)'s candidate Peer Steinbrueck said this would promote social justice, bring Germany in line with most EU members, and stimulate demand in Europe's biggest economy.

Together with their campaign allies the Greens, the SPD pledged to introduce a minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11) by next February, aiming to help especially women who make up 60 percent of low-wage workers.

The Greens' Katrin Goering-Eckardt said 6.8 million Germans are employed in a low-wage sector that is second only to those of some eastern European countries, earning on average less than seven euros an hour.

Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, said studies had shown that an 8.50 euro minimum wage would boost German domestic demand by some 19 billion euros, making it "a stimulus programme in its own right".

He charged that Merkel's proposal -- to allow different negotiated minimum wages by region and industrial sector -- would create "a patchwork of rules across Germany" with hundreds of separate wage deals struck.

Powerful metal workers and engineering union IG Metall backed the plan, calling it "the first and most important step in reordering the labour market".

Merkel's government, which also includes the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), argues that an across-the-board minimum wage would endanger jobs, pointing to Germany's current low unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.

Merkel is rated Germany's most popular politicians in most polls, and her conservative party is far ahead in national surveys, although they have lost a string of regional and city elections in recent years.

A poll this week by the Forsa institute pointed at a tight election race, placing both the ruling coalition of Merkel's conservatives and FDP, and the SPD-Greens alliance, at 41 percent.

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