Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has voted to introduce a minimum wage that could ultimately cover 4 million workers. It may have been the last cabinet meeting for FDP ministers, as the party trails in opinion polls.
In its last cabinet meeting before German elections, the government agreed to a sector-specific minimum wage plan - in this case for stonemasonry workers.
About 11,000 construction workers, painters and decorators and security service employees in the stonemason sector are set to benefit from the new minimum wage plan, which sets an hourly rate of 10.13 euros ($13.50) in the eastern part of the country and 11 euros ($14.70) in the west of the country. The difference reflects the discrepancy in living standards between the formerly communist East and the more affluent West German regions.
The government plans to then roll out a minimum wage set at similar levels to 11 more industry branches from the start of next year, ultimately reaching some 4 milion workers.
Minimum wages have been a key election issue, with the opposition Social Democrats calling for a national standard setting the minimum wage at 8.50 euros and the Left Party calling for 10 euros per hour.
However, Merkel's conservative-led coalition has always rejected a mandatory national minimum wage, arguing that it was best to allow employers and employees to negotiate pay sector-by-sector and region-by-region.
Germany is one of the few western countries that does not have a minimum wage. Wednesday's cabinet meeting was the last before the general election on September 22.
According to opinion polls, Merkel's CDU is likely to remain the strongest party, but the future of her junior coalition partner, the FDP, is looking doubtful. If it fails to pass the five percent threshold required to get into parliament, the next cabinet meeting will take place without them.
Merkel still favors FDP, but rejects sympathy votes
Speaking with public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday, Merkel said she would not ask her supporters to give their support to the FDP to make sure the pro-business party returns to the Bundestag. The Free Democrats are asking some Christian Democrat supporters to offer their "second vote" - the vote that determines the parties' parliamentary strength as opposed to the "first vote" Germans cast for their local MP - to them so as to preserve the current ruling coalition.
"If I am to have a strong mandate as German chancellor in the future, then it is good if I can gather lots of support with both votes from the German people," Merkel said. She also said that she did not believe the FDP would need help from her supporters on Sunday, saying "I believe we will be able to succeed together."
Perhaps the most likely scenario if the FDP fail is a return to a so-called grand coalition, led by Merkel, with the Social Democrats - the same constellation that governed during Merkel's first term. Asked whether she might favor this alliance - sure to possess a clear majority of seats - over a narrower one with the FDP, the chancellor said "narrow majorities are nothing out of the ordinary in German politics."
rg,msh/hc (AFP, dpa)
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