The EU’s proposed bloc-wide rule on the minimum wage has sparked fury in Sweden and Denmark. The government in Copenhagen has said the EU’s intention to weigh in on a minimum-wage framework across the bloc might be more than Denmark is willing to swallow. In an interview with Bloomberg, Danish Employment Minister Peter Hummelgaard Thomsen said sovereignty over labour market laws has always been a condition of Denmark’s EU membership. He added that Denmark is ready to fight the EU to maintain that independence.
This anger has also been seen in Sweden, as Stockholm urged seven other member states aside from the Danes to join its letter to the EU’s rotating presidency opposing the directive.
While the directive doesn’t force a set a minimum wage figure, it does require all member states to establish procedures for “adequate” minimum wages.
But in countries like Sweden and Denmark, a system of collective bargaining has long been preferred.
Hans Dahlgren, Sweden’s European affairs minister, told Euronews in October: “If the unions and the employers want to negotiate collective agreements every year or every two years, that has worked very well.
“There has been very few days lost in industrial action…so I think this is the best way for us…we don’t want this directive.”
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the European Commission disagreed.
He said: “Minimum wages work, and it is time that work paid.
“Since the financial crisis, those who earn the least have suffered the most in terms of not reaping the benefits of economic growth.”
The European Trade Union Confederation said: “The workers throughout the EU, in particular in the east, are as productive as in the west but they are not getting their fair share, so that is why the provision with [the] right to collective bargaining is really important because that is the major difference.
“I have been a minimum wage worker and it is tough work. I think it is really really important that this directive is not allowed to put on the long finger or that those forces, who seem to be quite comfortable and want to keep exploitative lower rates of pay as an option, that we put an end to that.”
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Despite this, Mr Sundstrom said he did not think a ‘Swexit’ would be possible for Sweden, as the country’s economy is smaller than the UK’s.
He added: “The UK was a more difficult partner to the EU than Sweden can be.
“There is no question of Sweden managing economically outside the EU, we have much more to lose.
“The UK is a big economy, a global power in many respects. But Sweden is a small export-dependent country, we simply have to align with EU countries.”