Closing the Divide: from Minimum to Living Wages

On 29 May the ITUC organised a forum with trade unions in Brussels and online to take stock of the outcomes of the recent ILO Expert Meeting on Wage Policy, Including Living Wages and reviewed the actions that trade unions are taking at national level to drive living wages.

The meeting brought together representatives of trade unions from over 30 countries, regional trade union organisations, the ILO, OECD, and representatives of international living wage initiatives, in order to review the outcomes of the recent ILO agreement and its implications for defining living wages and achieving them at national level, and the implications this agreement has for workers. The meeting moreover reviewed trade union campaigns and negotiation strategies for achieving minimum living wages – including within Serbia, the Philippines, Ghana, Brazil, and at European Level.

Within the meeting a number of persisting challenges for achieving living wages were identified, including attacks on freedom of association and trade union rights, low enforcement of existing minimum wages, fragmented wage structures, and downward competition between countries on the basis of low wages and labour standards. Participants worked to dispel common myths perpetuated by employers about economic factors hindering higher wages, and discussed how a range of economic arguments and evidence that can be used to wage increases.

Within the meeting participants discussed opportunities for further support available to trade unions through the ITUC, as well as the possibilities for the ILO support to support national-level discussions around wage adequacy, including through the ILO Decent Work Country Programmes. Trade unions were encouraged to signal specific support requests as a follow up to this meeting.

Interventions were also made by representatives of the OECD, UN Global Compact, and voluntary living wage initiatives, who reflected on the implications of the ILO agreement for existing international initiatives to measure and set living wages, as well as the potential for greater trade union involvement in these initiatives.
Wages remain inadequate across the world, and in-work poverty remains rife. Latest ILO estimates show that 585 million workers are earning below the poverty line, let alone below the level of income that is needed to ensure a decent life. The ITUC is committed to promoting adequate wages, as part of its call for a New Social Contract, and is calling on governments to ensure living wages through both raising statutory minimum wages as well as strengthening collective bargaining.