Luxembourg’s next government should finally act as a “bon père de famille” (a sensible father) and handle the budget with due care, says Netty Thines. The managing director and founder of communications company Mediation SA argues that businesses like hers have to be prudent with money and really think about how and where they invest. The government should do likewise. “That’s the most important thing. We know it is more difficult for small companies to absorb shocks than big companies. I think it’s the same with countries.”
Questions of fairness
As a business owner, one of those shocks is the inflation-related indexation of salaries. “It is a lot of money, and employees take it for granted,” says Thines. But what she sees as the unfairness of the indexation system is something that she would like to see addressed. “It’s a big problem that employees earning €15,000 or €10,000 get more money through indexation than those on lower salaries.”
Current labour law is completely detached from reality and absolutely not adapted to the modern way we live and work.
The government also needs to stop devoting public money to universal schemes, says the Luxembourger entrepreneur. “For example, the free schoolbooks or waiving fees for maison relais [afterschool care] and school lunches. Why does someone earning €20,000 need these gifts that nobody has asked for?” State finances would be better spent on targeting assistance for poorer families and individuals, she argues. “Luxembourg, on the one hand, is viewed as a very rich country, but we have a lot of working poor. We have a very high minimum salary, but it is not enough for one person to pay rent and survive. You have to be two people in a household.”
Another priority Thines would like to see the next administration tackle is what she feels is Luxembourg’s outdated employment legislation. “Current labour law is completely detached from reality and absolutely not adapted to the modern way we live and work. For example, students are not allowed to work on Sundays. Well, that is when they would have time to work and may want to work.” She argues that the current rules and regulations are made for worst-case scenarios, for huge companies with thousands of employees who can apply economic pressure on staff. But SMEs are in most cases close to their employees and will do anything to keep them.
Another problem Thines has recognised is that too much of the local workforce ends up being employed by the state or public administrations. “Often the companies train these people, and then they leave for a job with the government because they pay a higher salary. There is a recommendation that if staff leave for the civil service, companies should be compensated for the training they have paid for.”
As for the thorny issue of housing, Thines does not have any solution. “When you look at who is in the government, it is mostly Luxembourgers. And they all have at least one house. So, I just wonder if it’s in their interest to regulate it [the housing market].” One thing the next government could do, however, is make sure that affordable housing is actually accessible to those who are most in need, she says.
A version of this article originally appeared in Delano’s Autumn 2023 magazine