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German Parliament approves country's 1st national minimum wage, to take effect next year

Germany Government-1.jpg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, speaks with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, and Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, center, prior to the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) (The Associated Press)

The German Parliament has approved the introduction of the country's first national minimum wage, which will guarantee most workers in Europe's biggest economy at least 8.50 euros ($11.60) per hour starting next year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is taking the step at the insistence of her coalition partners since last December, the center-left Social Democrats. Some employers will have two years to phase in the minimum wage, which takes effect Jan. 1.

Merkel's conservatives have gone along with the plan unenthusiastically; for decades, determining wages in Germany has been a matter almost entirely for unions and employers. Under-18s will be exempted, as will the long-term unemployed in the first six months after they return to work.

Lawmakers voted 535-5 with 61 abstentions in favor of the minimum wage on Thursday.