The fight for decent pay goes on

Podium; From a speech by the General Secretary of the public service union Unison to its annual conference.

My mother, who was a nurse, joined our union in 1940, and became an activist for the rest of her working life. My dad was a school caretaker, and was also a member of our union. Both were low paid. I first marched with our low-paid members as a nine-year-old boy and unfortunately there's a photograph of me showing my National Health Service spectacles and my school cap.

I began work for the union as soon as I possibly could in the mid-Sixties. The issue that most stirred me in those days could have been any one thing. I was opposed to nuclear weapons. I am opposed to basic human needs such as housing, or utilities like water, gas or electricity being used for private profit. But the one single issue that drove me now as it did then is the issue of low pay. Low pay which means people have to scratch and scrape to exist from week to week. Low pay which demeans. Low pay which scars.

But not, of course, for all. Just for some. Sky-high incomes for others. We've got shortage among plenty. We've got poverty amidst wealth.

For 100 years some have stood for a statutory national minimum wage below which no man, woman, black or white, young or old should be exploited.

And I want to put on record our profound thanks to those pioneers and I hope nobody minds if I specially mention our dear comrades Alan Fisher and Bernard Dix.

Through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties we began to gain support, though as late as 1983 I had a drubbing at the Scottish TUC for daring to voice demands for a minimum wage. Not until two years later at the 1985 Labour Party conference and in the following year, 1986, at the TUC conference did we win the whole movement to our cause. Unison's evidence to the Low Pay Commission dispelled the myth that a minimum wage will cost jobs - yet we still hear the whingeing voices of those who would deny a living wage to all. As Winston Churchill said - the employer who cannot afford to pay a decent living wage should not be an employer. Now for the first time in history we're on the brink of that new law and I for one am not going to tell those many millions that they haven't even had a small victory, because they have and it is our victory. That law is massively important. But the rate, of course, is another thing. Because pounds 3.60 an hour is the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission. There was even talk that the Government may water that down. But pounds 3.60 at the end of the 20th century in this, one of the richest nations on earth? Surely that can't be fair, that cannot be right, that cannot be our future.

And the great sadness, of course, is that even at that level over two million of our brothers and sisters will actually get pay increases. That's how bad things are.

We fought, as well, very hard so that young people were not discriminated against. We actually beat down the absurd suggestion made by the Government that if you are under 26 years old you would not get that minimum wage. What a way to win friends amongst the young! That cannot be fair.

Our position is clear. It doesn't matter how young you are, it doesn't matter how old you are, if you are doing the job you get the proper wage. You don't have it watered down.

There's much to be made clearer. Take contractors, for example. Are they going to be able to use the minimum wage to undermine directly employed public services? We would say that cannot be so and we've also got to make sure so that, unlike in some other countries, the minimum wage doesn't just sit there and get an increase every five or 10 years or when there's a presidential election approaching.

The minimum wage should not be used as a political football. We must make sure it's enforced properly, and isn't simply ignored by employers, as the old wages council edicts were in the past.

We haven't seen the eradication of poverty pay. My life's work and yours has been dedicated to eradicating poverty pay. All we've got is a staging post. We cannot and we will not rest there.

But we can say loud and clear, so that they can hear us: Tony, Gordon, make no mistake whatsoever; because the minimum wage has been introduced it does not mean that Unison will accept that rate.

We have a formula of half male median earnings, and will continue to argue for that in the future, until such time as we don't get just a minimum wage but a decent minimum wage.

Conference unite.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine