Employers break minimum wage by territory taboo

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The president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi, Monday in a conference

BarcelonaProbably more as a delaying tactic than out of conviction, but this Thursday the Spanish employers' association CEOE has opened a debate that until now has been taboo for the social partners: the possibility of the minimum wage being different depending on the territory. The president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi, has argued it in a very simple way by recalling that collective agreements have a provincial scope, and that a worker in the metal sector in Vizcaya does not earn the same as one in Murcia, or even one in Guipúzcoa. "In areas such as Madrid and Barcelona, the cost of living has little to do with other parts of Spain", Garamendi said in an interview.

Indeed, the fact that the minimum wage is the same for all of Spain causes a situation of objective discrimination for workers living in areas where the price of living is higher. The current 950 euros do not represent the same, in terms of purchasing power, in Badajoz as in Girona, for example. The Generalitat, when Pere Aragonès was economic vice-president, carried out a study to quantify what the minimum wage in Catalonia should be, that is, a figure that would guarantee a decent standard of living, taking into account the cost of living, and it was set at 1,239 euros. Obviously, this figure is an average, because the cost of living in Terres de l'Ebre is not the same as in Barcelona, but at least it would be closer to reality and reduce the current imbalance.

Garamendi's proposal was quickly rejected by the PSOE government. "It would not be appropriate to make distinctions in relation to territory because workers must be guaranteed minimum and dignified working conditions, wherever they carry out their activity", said the Minister of Finance and Public Service, Maria Jesus Montero. But it is just the opposite. An minimum wage adapted to the reality of each territory would better guarantee these "minimum and decent working conditions", since the current situation especially punishes workers in urban areas and large cities, especially young people, who are those who receive the minimum wage.

It is even more incomprehensible that the Catalan trade unions are not aligned with the Generalitat in this demand, since their duty is precisely to defend the interests of workers. There is an atavistic fear of anything that, according to them, could break "market unity", when this market already acts in a naturally territorialised way. It is the same debate that exists with regional funding (one euro does not buy the same in Catalonia as in Galicia; therefore, building a school here is more expensive) or even with pensions and social benefits.

What is not acceptable is to ignore reality and treat differently. If we really want the territorial variable not to determine a worker's purchasing power or the level of public services received, then resources must be distributed taking into account the cost of living. And to do the opposite is to harm some for the benefit of others.