Burger chains breach minimum wage levels

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYERS IN the service and retail sectors, including high street hamburger chains, are expected to ignore the lower minimum wage for 18- to 21-year-olds and pay the full pounds 3.60 a hour.

McDonald's intend to apply the adult rate to all fully trained employees over the age of 17 and Burger King to all trained staff whatever their age, the Labour Research Department has been told.

Last week, after prolonged cabinet in-fighting, the Government announced that a statutory floor on pay of pounds 3.60 an hour would apply to those aged 22 and over, that 18- to 21-year-olds would be covered by a pounds 3 limit and that there would be no minimum for those aged 16 and 17.

There is mounting evidence, however, that employers are moving away from rates based on age, to wages based on competence.

The GMB general union will reveal tomorrow that a range of employers in the food and leisure industry covering nearly 100,000 workers are rejecting the idea of an "age wage".

Derek Hunter, a national official with the GMB, will tell the union's food and leisure conference that deals have been signed by companies in food manufacturing and wholesale grocery which either abolish age-related rates or significantly reduce the "differentials". One big company, Nestle- Rowntree, recently abandoned lower rates for 16- and 17-year-olds except those on training schemes.

Some 75 per cent of employees at Burger King are below the age of 22 and the lowest rate for trained staff of pounds 3.39 is expected to be up-rated to pounds 3.60 whatever their age. At McDonald's the lowest wage of pounds 3.50 for those over 18 would be raised to at least pounds 3.60 even for 18- to 21-year- olds.

Mr Hunter said the Low Pay Commission's decision to recommend a lower rate for younger people flew in the face of trends in the labour market. "Employers are responding to the logic of the argument that if you are competent to perform a task, you should get the rate for the job," he said.

Alastair Hatchett, of research organisation Incomes Data Services, found that businesses are moving away from scales based on age towards shorter- term trial periods or "skills and competency-based entry rates".

Mr Hatchett says the trend has been most marked in the retail sector and began in the late 1980s. Tesco, Sainsburys and WH Smith began to raise their "youth" rates eight years ago, he said.