Even before the coronavirus pandemic and the current sharp price increases, a large part of Czech society
was not able to earn sufficient remuneration for their work to enable workers and their households a
decent material existence.
People who were not earning a minimum decent wage in previous years, or whose income was only just above
it, are now extremely vulnerable to the rapid rise in energy prices and general inflation, not least
because they have not been able to make enough savings from their income to meet emergencies.
Therefore, both because of current developments and for the longer-term resilience of society in the face
of such crises, it is crucial to look for concrete ways to deliberately keep raising wages, salaries,
and other types of income so that, at least in the medium to long term, they approach what can be
considered a decent material minimum.
If we fail to do this, there is a risk of negative consequences both at the individual level and,
ultimately, at the societal level. Social resilience and political stability are intrinsically linked to
the decent provision of its members and the associated sense of basic security.
How to proceed?
Unions can use the minimum decent wage as a starting point for wage and salary demands in
collective bargaining, which is one of the most effective tools for raising
them. However, trade
union organization and coverage by collective agreements are still below the European
the Czech Republic – only about one in nine workers is a member of a trade union
and only about
one in three are covered by a collective agreement.
A significant increase in the level of coverage by collective agreements is now also required by
the European Union – the Directive on adequate minimum wages adopted in 2022 sets a
target of 80 percent in this respect, i.e. more than double the current Czech
level. The Czech
Republic will therefore have to develop an appropriate action plan soon.
The greater bargaining power to promote decent pay for work and a broader societal effect would
also allow unions to bargain collectively at a higher than company level, which
in many Western countries. However, this does not work in the Czech Republic due to the
reluctance of employers to negotiate at the sectoral level, even though it is legally possible.
Why is it important?
Collective bargaining is an extremely effective tool for ensuring decent pay,
logically much more
effective than individual bargaining. It allows for a flexible response to the
situation of a given enterprise or institution and a fair balance in the distribution of
added value produced between workers and investors.
This is clearly reflected in the wage statistics – where collective bargaining takes place, wages
are on average 17 percent higher.
But it is not just the material side of things – we know from surveys that large sections of
society experience a sense of loss of control over their lives, which can lead
resignation or radicalization. Involvement in workplace unions and the tangible
a result of such involvement can help to mitigate this feeling, including its negative social
Relevant legislation and documents for review:
The principle of decent working conditions can be applied by the state and local governments
wherever they demand services or grant institutional or project support. Public procurement
already has a legal condition of social responsibility, and the commitment to
pay the minimum decent wage can be a concretization of this.
Why is it important?
The selection of service providers on the basis of the lowest price offered, or the pressure for
low wages in grant competitions and subsidies, often creates additional costs for the state.
Especially materially, when it has to make up for low incomes through the benefit systems, but
it is also a question of putting trust in the state as a guarantor of justice. In addition, this
principle often results in lower quality work being done, causing additional costs.
It is particularly important to provide for decent wages in programmes aimed at
ecological transformation and for structurally disadvantaged regions and groups. A
positive side effect is upward pressure on wages even where public funds are not involved,
otherwise poverty and social inequalities are replicated.
The State and its agencies may take the current level of the minimum decent wage into account
when establishing pay scales. In particular, it is unacceptable that the minimum decent wage
should not be paid to employees with longer years of service.
An example of positive practice is the increase of the minimum wage in the US public sector to
$15 per hour as of January 2022, which more than doubled the current minimum guaranteed wage in
order to guarantee decent pay.
Public employers should set an example and provide their employees with a salary
on which they can live decently. Wage growth in the public sector can then have a positive
impact on wage growth in the private sector.
In setting minimum remuneration standards, it is necessary to take into account the costs
can be covered by the wage. A legal minimum wage or a non-forfeitable amount for
asset seizure should provide at least for the basic necessities. For this purpose, it must first
grow significantly before being periodically indexed according
to a set rule. At the same time,
however, the adoption of an indexation mechanism must not serve to put future incremental
increases out of the question.
Guaranteed wages linked to the minimum wage should reach a decent minimum at a
especially for highly skilled workers or workers key to the functioning of the society
Directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union was adopted at EU
level last year. In
contrast to the original more ambitious proposals, it does not even provide for an obligation to
raise minimum wages to at least the income poverty level (60% of the median wage / 50% of the
average wage) – the Czech minimum wage is well below it – but only for Member States to
regularly evaluate and justify the level of the minimum wage. The objective that minimum wages
should guarantee a comparable standard of living within the EU, thus levelling out income
inequalities between Member States, remains elusive.
If the minimum wage or the non-forfeitable minimum does not reach a decent minimum, it
fulfil its protective function, resulting in so-called “working poverty”, leading,
things, to indebtedness or the topping up of low wages with benefits. A low non-forfeitable
minimum after deductions resulting from asset seizure pushes workers out of the legal labour
market, because they simply have to provide additional funds for necessary expenses.
It has been clearly established that growth in the lowest wages does not lead to an
Unfortunately, the adopted form of the Directive on adequate minimum wages preserves wage
differences between Member States by linking them to the wage level in a given country. By
disregarding the living wage principle, on which the minimum decent wage is based, it
to guarantee a minimum wage sufficient to cover current expenditure.
Lowering taxes and contributions toward health insurance and social security
would leave the
lower-income class with more of the resources they need to live in dignity. But this must
necessarily be coupled with other steps to ensure that the cuts are compensated
so that there is
sufficient funding for a stable or even expanding range of free or affordable public services.
These also contribute to a decent life for people on low wages.
There should be a review of tax credits, with the aim of reconsidering those
benefit high-income households (and often not those with the lowest incomes), and higher
burdens on the high-income classes, including property or capital taxes. The
the tax progression rate can be based on the calculation of the minimum decent
wage as a
threshold for non-taxable or low-taxable income.
The tax system can play a key role in ensuring decent wages, but also in ensuring overall social
justice. So far, however, it is rather out of focus in this respect, although in its current
set-up it tends to make the situation for low-income earners even worse.
The state can either guarantee the existing free or price-regulated public services
(e.g., in the
areas of health, transport, or culture) or, better still, further expand them, thus
to a decent life independent of income from work. Particularly in the area of housing, it is
extremely urgent to accept regulation and to start acting as a market actor.
The lowest income groups are also the ones most affected by the taxation of consumption
VAT on basic necessities, as they directly consume the largest share of their
the rate on the most essential goods and services is thus another way of contributing to a
materially decent life, especially in times of high inflation.
The decent provision of all basic needs does not necessarily take place only through rapid wage
increases. Wage growth corresponding to the current rise in costs (housing, energy) is
realistic for many employers. The availability of public services can compensate
and satisfactorily. Solutions at the level of the individual, who tries to make the best of the
free market, may even counterproductively drive up prices, as is currently happening in the
housing market, for example.
In many cases, the expansion of public services could also have other positive effects (e.g.,
replacing individual car transport with public transport also contributes to combating the
climate crisis and improves the quality of life in cities).
How to proceed?
The benefits which are intended to play the role of wage replacement in the benefit system must
at least cover basic expenses, better still a decent material
minimum, and ideally allow people to maintain the existing standard of
A number of benefits play the role of wage replacement in the social security system – whether in
situations of sickness, temporary loss of income, full-time childcare, etc. The insecurity
caused by income dropping out in normal life situations such as illness has negative effects on
individuals and their households, and is also seen as one of the causes of political
This is particularly relevant in the context of increasing pressure for flexibility in the labour
market and the expected impact of technological and other changes, where short-
unemployment and retraining will become a normal part of a career. There is evidence that
sufficient support also allows for better re-entry into the labour market by allowing people to
wait for an offer that matches their qualifications and experience and offers an appropriate
Specific tools to review:
In order to prevent downward pressure on wages and ultimately to maintain social peace, it will
be crucial to advocate for decent remuneration for newcomers who join the labour market.
People in need are often willing to accept poorer working conditions, work for lower
longer hours. They are also usually in a weaker position to bargain for respect for
rights. If they are not protected, this will not only have negative effects on the foreign
workers themselves (poverty, spatial segregation, etc.), but is also highly likely to lead to
increased tensions in society. The experience that new arrivals lower the
standards of what is
normal for all people in similar positions leads to a rise in anti-immigration sentiment.
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