Nearly 3 million union members will not be able to afford heating their homes this year, due to rising energy prices, according to a study by the union organization on Wednesday.
The European Confederation of Trade Unions, which has 45 million members, said 15% of union members, the equivalent of 2,713,578 people, do not have enough money to turn on the heating.
Wholesale gas and electricity prices have surged across Europe, raising the likelihood of an increase in already high utility bills and further hardship for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cyprus has the highest percentage of people (45.6%) who cannot afford heating, followed by Bulgaria, Lithuania, Portugal, Greece and Italy.
“There are millions of low-wage workers in Europe who have to choose between heating their home, feeding their families properly or paying rent, despite working full-time,” said ETUC Deputy Secretary General Esther Lynch. “Unfortunately, with the rise in energy prices this winter, more people are forced to return from long day or night work to a cold house, and their children do their homework with frozen hands.”
The Confederation of Trade Unions has called on the European Union to introduce a “threshold of decency” in the draft minimum wage directive to ensure that the statutory minimum is never below 60% of the national average wage and 50% of the average wage of any EU country.
The Confederation said that 20 EU members currently have statutory minimum wages below that level.
ETUC claims to base its research on data from the EU statistical agency. The numbers used here refer to the number of workers earning less than 60% of the national median “equivalent income,” a measure of household income that takes into account differences in household size and composition.
“This does not include those who earn less than 50% of the national average wage, which means that there are likely to be many more workers trying to make ends meet,” the confederation said.
According to ETUC, Cyprus has the highest percentage of workers (45.6%) who cannot afford heating. The country is ahead of Bulgaria, Lithuania, Portugal, Greece and Italy. And although winter in Cyprus and other southern countries does not last so long, and temperatures rarely drop below zero, living in dank dampness is terribly unpleasant.
In fact, of the 500 million inhabitants of the European Union, at least 15% of the population is in a similar situation.
The organization said the situation has worsened over the past decade in 10 member countries, and that the recent surge in energy prices puts workers at an even greater risk of falling into energy poverty.
Transport and energy ministers from the 27 EU member states met in Slovenia on Wednesday to discuss the EU’s climate and energy package “Fit for 55”, which aims to help the 27-nation bloc reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, up from levels 1990 year.
Earlier this month, the EU vice president for climate affairs said the bloc must ensure that the most vulnerable people will not pay the highest price to switch to renewables.