Berlin (AFP) - Germany slammed the brakes Friday on applying its new minimum wage to foreign truck drivers transiting the country in a move welcomed by Poland which vigorously opposed the system.
Just weeks after the minimum wage took effect, German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles said after talks with her Polish counterpart in Berlin that the suspension was decided "out of consideration for (Germany's) neighbours".
It will be kept on ice until European rules on the issue have been clarified, she told reporters.
Polish transport companies and the government in Warsaw raised objections after neighbouring Germany introduced a national minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($9.60) an hour on January 1, including for lorry drivers passing through the country even just for a few hours.
Germany is the only European country not to exclude transit workers from the minimum wage which it has argued was needed to stave off wage dumping.
An association of Polish transporters last week slammed the German measure as "discriminatory and disproportionate" for requiring Polish-based firms to pay their drivers the German minimum wage for the period they are on the country's soil, or face a fine.
The Polish government had urged Berlin to change the system and complained to Brussels, where the European Commission last week opened a preliminary case to look into whether it complied with European law.
Polish trade unions however had written to Nahles to appeal to her to stand firm.
Labour Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz called Berlin's suspension "a good decision" and urged Brussels to clarify the legal situation "as quickly as possible".
The Czech Republic and Hungary had also complained. The minimum wage in the three eastern European countries is around a quarter of Germany's.
- 'Good neighbourliness' -
Germany's new measure had required a Polish truck driver who is heading to Spain to be paid an hourly 8.50 euros from this year from the moment the driver crosses the German border, before reverting to the wage paid in the driver's home country on leaving German soil.
The driver's employer also faced administrative paperwork under the measure, and a fine if the driver were not paid accordingly.
Nahles said she did not believe Germany was violating European Union rules by applying an across-the-board minimum wage, including for transiting truckers.
She said she expected a decision by Brussels between April and June.
"I hope that our agreement of today will be seen as a sign of good neighbourliness," Nahles told reporters, adding she did not want the new German measure to weigh on relations with EU partners.
Anna Wrona, spokeswoman for Poland's ZMPD Association of International Transporters, told AFP that Berlin's decision was "a step in the right direction".
"We're now counting on some reasonable definitive solutions."
At least 200,000 drivers work in the international transport sector in Poland.
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU commissioner for employment and social affairs Marianne Thyssen welcomed Berlin's "willingness" during talks to look into concerns and said the suspension was "a positive step".
Overall, the German minimum wage law is "fully in line with the social policy commitment of this Commission", he added.
The suspension only applies for transit journeys and not to deliveries by foreign truckers in or from Germany.
According to Germany's BGL road haulage and logistics federation, about a fifth of goods-transporting traffic on German roads is transit.
Chancellor Angela Merkel last year signed off on the country's first national minimum wage, an idea she had long opposed.
Her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, were adamant that they would only enter into a power-sharing deal if Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats agreed to the fixed basic wage to help Germany's growing army of working poor.
After long and tortuous negotiations, they agreed to start phasing in a minimum wage from January 1.
Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has not ruled out future changes to the minimum wage amid calls for modifications.