Spain announces huge minimum wage rise amid Catalonia tensions

The largest rise in more than 40 years and could see the salaries of millions of low-paid workers grow by 22 percent.

    Sanchez's minority government needs support from Catalan separatist parties to pass the 2019 budget [File: Sergio Perez/Reuters]
    Sanchez's minority government needs support from Catalan separatist parties to pass the 2019 budget [File: Sergio Perez/Reuters]

    Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised a huge jump in the minimum wage on Wednesday as he appeared to be gearing up for an early election widely expected for next year.

    The 22 percent rise is the largest in more than 40 years and could see the monthly salaries of millions of low-paid workers grow from 736 euro ($835) to 900 euro ($1,019).

    "A rich country can't afford to have poor workers," Sanchez told Spain's parliament in a debate on Wednesday. 

    Ministers will approve the measure by decree at a meeting in Barcelona on December 21, Sanchez said, with the change taking effect in January.

    The move came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a 100 euro ($114) increase for minimum wage earners following massive protests by the so-called "yellow vests" over a planned rise to fuel tax.

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    Spain sets the minimum wage annually, but the 2019 target is much higher than those of recent years, with a rise of just 4 percent.

    The rise is part of a deal by the ruling Socialists' to pass the country's 2019 budget with the support of anti-austerity party Podemos.

    Sanchez, 48, came to power in June after a surprise parliamentary vote of no-confidence against the previous conservative government of Mariano Rajoy.

    However, his Socialists control just 84 seats in the 350-seat parliament and rely on both Podemos and the Catalan separatist parties to push through key measures, including the budget.

    Renewed tensions with Catalonia

    The wage rise may be an attempt to woo the Catalan separatists, who have so far refused to back Sanchez as tensions between Madrid and the semi-autonomous region have flared up again a year after an extremely contentious independence referendum in Catalonia.

    Sanchez had called for renewed dialogue with Catalonia after he came to power, but his government has adopted a much sharper tone in recent days.

    During Wednesday's debate, the prime minister compared Catalonia's independence campaign with the United Kingdom's push to leave the European Union, saying both campaigns "invent a story of grievances, magnified by manipulation" and force people to choose between two identities.

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    His comments follow Catalan President Quim Torra's urging to Catalans over the weekend to follow the example of Slovenia, which unilaterally declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, triggering at 10-day armed conflict with the Yugoslav army that killed more than 60 people.

    Madrid had already threatened on Monday to take control of security in Catalonia after pro-independence protesters blocked a major highway at the weekend for 15 hours without any intervention by the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan regional police.

    Protests are expected ahead of Sanchez's government's meeting in the Catalonian capital on December 21.

    SOURCE: News agencies