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Bulgarians endure lowest minimum wage in the EU

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Bulgarians endure lowest minimum wage in the EU
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Bulgaria might have increased its minimum wage in January to 286 euros per month, but it still remains the lowest miminum wage of all the 22 EU states that have one.

(Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Italy, Denmark and Sweden have yet to introduce it - if they ever do. The highest three minimum wages are found in Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Ireland.)

Elena Marvakova, is one of many low paid textile workers, paid a pittance at the Pirin-Tex garment factory in Gotse Delchev in southern Bulgaria.

She has 33 years of work behind her but her take home pay is just a meagre 340 euros a month.

She's joined PODKREPA, a Bulgarian workers' union pushing for higher pay, and like many workers she's also demanding that the EU takes action - she wants to see a common minimum wage across the bloc.

Most economists regard this as unrealistic as living costs, especially for housing, vary so much across the EU, but it's a sign of the deep frustration at the factory.

"Are Bulgaria's laws made for human beings? Or are they made for robots? We work non-stop: with this system, our employer legalised almost a kind of forced labour system," she told Euronews in a break from the factory floor.

A lifetime of low paid work also results in the most basic of pensions, meaning the last years of many Bulgarians' lives are spent in even worse poverty.

Eighty year old Atlaza Shtereva began working at just 15. She planted trees, worked as a cook and produced zippers in the garment industry during her working life.

Now , in her old age, her pension is worth just 150 euros per month and around 50 euros of it goes immediately on her electricity and medical bills.

"When having a look in the shop windows I see a lot of goods I can not afford to buy," she told Euronews in her spartan flat.

"Thanks to my children I have some heating so I will not get sick. It's them buying me the wood for heating," she said.

The European Unon has been working on lifting twenty million Europeans - many of whose lifes stories are similar to Elena's and Atlaza's - out of poverty and social exclusion by next year.

Meanwhile the low pay continues to propel Bulgarians to head to western Europe in search of work, but it comes at at a high social cost, splitting families and lives across two EU states.

Bulgaria as a country suffers too; the tax base is eroded as there are fewer workers - unless there is sufficient immigration to replace those that have left, which there isn't. Like Bulgarians themeselves, most migrants want to work in the more prosperous west.

Meanwhile workers vote with their feet and leave in such numbers that Bulgaria is now the fastest shrinking country in the world according to the UN.

When communism fell in 1989 the country had 9 million people.

But it's now got 7.1 million and by 2050 it's on course to have only 5.4 million.