Labour Conference: Union in plea over minimum wage

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The Independent Online
Labour's biggest affiliate made its bid for a statutory national wage. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, finds unions urging penalities for employers who break the law.

Employers should face fines and tax penalties for failing to implement the planned national minimum wage, the Transport and General Workers' Union argued yesterday.

As employees' organisations yesterday made their final submissions to the Low Pay Commission, the TGWU said the rate should be set at pounds 4 an hour and urged the Government to employ more civil servants to police the system.

Bill Morris, general secretary, said that workers' leaders should also have a role in exposing transgressors.

News of the memorandum from the transport union, follows a row over comments on the minimum wage on Wednesday by Peter Mandelson, minister without portfolio. The minister said that a lower rate "will apply" to young people, which was later amended to allow the independent commission discretion and to indicate an inferior minimum should only apply to trainees.

Mr Morris insisted that all workers over the age of 18 except those on accredited training courses. He said that it would be a tragedy if the commission was seen to be a puppet of the Government.

"The Low Pay Commission was set up to be independent, not a extension of government. If it was seen as such, it would do immense damage to its credibility."

Referring to Mr Mandelson's comments at a fringe meeting, Mr Morris regretted the intervention and hoped there would be no "repetitions".

Another case submitted yesterday came from the public service union Unison which stuck to its guns that the minimum should be half male median earnings, which currently works out at pounds 4.61 an hour. The eventual statutory limit would probably be about a pounds 1 less.

The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, which represents 750,000 craft workers, effectively argued that the rate should be at a modest level. The right-wing AEEU believes that a relatively high minimum would mean some of its members would need to protect their pay differentials.

It is thought that the GMB general union also argued for more than pounds 4 - a position already adopted by the TUC leadership which is to make an oral submission on 14 October. Both the transport union and the GMB contend that a rate of around pounds 4 would be unlikely to lead to unemployment.

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