Trade unions

ITUC wage campaign steps up efforts to increase wages in the Balkans

In 2017, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) launched a global wage campaign to support trade union action to increase wages. Most of the activities had taken place in Asia, Latin America and Africa so far. In July 2019, ITUC extended the wage campaign to the Balkans. The new regional action unfolds in cooperation between ITUC and its regional structure for East and Southeast Europe, the Pan European Regional Council (PERC), supported by the ILO.

News | 07 November 2019
Campaign participants highlighted that while productivity has increased over the last decades across Central and Eastern Europe including the Balkans, wage increase has not kept the same pace. This means that the convergence of productivity between Western Balkan and EU countries is happening faster than wage convergence (see WB Trends report 2019 or  OECD Report 2018).  While evidence shows there can be correlation between higher productivity and higher wages, statistics also prove that there has been no country where wages would have grown faster than productivity over the last decade.

The trade unions argue that low wages lead to outward migration and brain drain, as many qualified workers move abroad to make a decent income.  Figures from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) show that over one third of the nationals of the Western Balkan region now live abroad.  This, in turn, leads to skills shortages and lower tax incomes in sending countries. It also puts pressure on social security as the receivers increasingly outnumber contributors. 

The benefits of higher wages and higher minimum wages go beyond just direct poverty reduction and decreasing outward migration according to the campaign supporters. Better wages give workers and their families more money to spend, fuelling the economy through higher demand. Higher demand allows for more sustainable businesses, more decent jobs and a healthier economy overall.

Source: ITUC

To address the low wage levels, trade unions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine will join for a regional effort in the framework of ITUC’s global wage campaign. By clearly defining goals, potential adversaries and “wage champions” (allies), the campaign will aim at supporting trade union demands for minimum wages that make living wages. Wages should cover the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living and social security benefits.

The work under the campaign will focus on supporting trade unions in:

- Increasing wages
- Minimum wage setting negotiations
- Lobbying national and regional governance structures, and
- Calculation of comprehensive cost of living baskets for countries that do not already have them, or where the cost of living basket is unrealistically low.

All countries joining the campaign ratified ILO Convention 98. on the Right to Collective Bargaining.  All countries (except Croatia) also ratified ILO Convention 131. on Minimum Wage Setting. Despite the ratifications, unions in most countries report that they are not properly involved in minimum wage setting mechanisms.