unaffordable for “millions” of workers, warn unions

Rising electricity and gas prices are making the energy bills of millions of Europeans unaffordable, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) warned in a statement on Tuesday. “Some 9.5 million working people were already struggling to pay their energy bills” before inflation soared to a record high of 9.1% over one year in August in the euro zone, says the ETUC, based on a study by the European Trade Union Institute. From July 2021 to July 2022, the cost of gas and electricity increased by 38% across Europe “and it continues to rise”.

A whole month’s salary to keep lighting up

As a result, in sixteen Member States of the European Union (EU) including France, “workers paid the minimum wage must set aside the equivalent of a month’s salary or more to continue to have light and heat at home”, deplore the unions. In 2021, this was only the case in eight of the twenty-seven EU Member States.

In 2022, an Estonian worker must work twenty-six days longer than in 2021 to pay his annual energy bill, and a Dutch worker twenty additional days. In Slovakia, Greece, the Czech Republic and Italy, “the average annual energy bill now represents more than a month’s salary for an active paid at the average salary” of his country, details the ETUC.

“These prices are simply not bearable”

“When your annual bill costs more than a month’s salary, there are no money-saving tricks,” said ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch, quoted in the statement. According to her, “these prices are simply not bearable for millions of citizens”.

The unions are therefore calling on European governments, which will meet at the end of the week in Prague to discuss energy issues, to “put an end to unsustainable price increases”. In a six-point plan for policy makers on the continent, they call for higher wages and in particular minimum wages.

ETUC calls for taxing ‘windfall profits’

The ETUC also calls for capping energy bills and taxing the “windfall profits” of energy companies. Paris and Berlin have been pushing in recent days for a simple non-tax “contribution” from these companies.

“Political leaders must seize this crisis before it costs lives this winter,” insists Esther Lynch.

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