Podium: Decent pay for all, please, Tony

From a speech by the general secretary of Unison to the TUC in Blackpool

OF ALL the times I've spoken on this subject, this is one of the most difficult. Part of me is cock-a-hoop, proud that we now have, for the first time in our time, a minimum wage law in this country below which no-one will be exploited. It is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers who campaigned for its introduction. This was not a campaign of the great and the good. Few politicians proclaimed its virtues. Few economists lent their names and brains. Some feared it would undermine free collective bargaining and even trade union organisation. It was an unpopular cause, the lost cause of the forgotten third of the population - low paid, disregarded, excluded - the sweepers, the cleaners, the cooks and the carers who marched and lobbied and argued for the minimum wage, until they transformed it from the desperate cry of the few to the commitment of the many.

Yes, part of me is very proud and pleased. But part of me is outraged, that at the end of the 20th century, at the gateway of the new millennium we still will not pay a decent living wage.

I don't and I won't decry the work that George Bain and his colleagues have done on the low-pay commission. His report will rank with the great social reports of the post and pre-war years. And I don't want to appear grudging, an ingrate.

But there is no gentle, easy way to put this: pounds 3.60 per hour of work before stoppages cannot be fair and it cannot be an acceptable level. It is not enough for food, for clothing, for rent; not enough for a night out or to give the kids a treat. Not enough to sustain a life that we all have a right to expect.

I believe pounds 3.60 is a retreat from earlier commitments: Two-and-a-half million less people covered than the half male median earnings target we so long fought for; some 600,000 less people than the wages councils covered before their abolition.

I don't expect public confessions from my prime minister nor from you, Mr President, for that matter.

But these six coins in my hand are worth pounds 3.60, and I defy Tony and Cherie, John Edmonds, me or anybody to try and live for six months on that rate, let alone for a lifetime - and be happy and content. But it's only pounds 3.60 if you're 22 years old. If you're 21 or younger, not this year but next you'll get pounds 3 an hour - pounds 114 per week - not pounds 6,000 a year.

I tell you, it's bad news to short change anybody at any age, but to short change the future, our sons and daughters and grandchildren? What a message to the young. And of course the landlord won't charge any less, food isn't any cheaper at the supermarket check-out. No pub or disco will reduce its prices because you're on a second-class minimum wage.

It's an old trade union principle. If you're 61 or 21 and you're doing the job, you should get the rate for the job. And I don't believe that the jobs of the next millennium depend on pathetically low rates of pay. The danger, the fear has always been that if you set the minimum wage too low, if you fail to connect up with the collective bargaining agenda, it might become a maximum, rather than a minimum, level.

We need to refocus our efforts. The composite calls for a bargaining target of at least pounds 4.61, our current half male median earnings figure.

Before long no worker should have less than pounds 5 an hour negotiated by unions.

Additionally, there needs to be a new fair wages clause. Our last one, scrapped by the Tories, was to bring us into line with every other European country - requiring employers to recognise the going rate in the sector and not give cowboy contractors the chance to legally undermine public sector provision and standards.

And we need a mechanism for uprating the minimum wage annually. Without it the rate is static and loses even its little value.

Before the Minimum Wage Act comes into effect, my union hopes that trades unions, pensioners and community groups will rally together to not only mark the occasion of the new law but to highlight our commitment to press forward through the breached walls of poverty pay to our goal.

Plimsoll lines have been mentioned and our Prime Minister this very day spoke of sinking ships. We know that it's those in steerage who suffer when the water comes over. We want a way out of steerage.

Our time will come. We're not there yet. But our aim is, as always, the end of sweated labour, the end of wage exploitation, the end of poverty pay and the start of an era when the labourers are not only worthy of their hire but get it and at a decent level.

Tony said we're at the start of the "giving age". Give us decency and dignity. Support the cause, support the motion I move.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little