The largest craft union defied TUC policy and called for the statutory pay rate to be phased in over five years starting with a rate of about pounds 3 an hour.
The controversial statement by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, which has warned it will fight to maintain the wage gap between its skilled members and the low paid, was denounced by other union leaders as "policy-making on the hoof", "selfish" "shallow" and "a betrayal".
TUC policy, set to be endorsed tomorrow, is that the minimum should be struck at half male median earnings, which produces figures between pounds 3.60 and pounds 4.15 an hour, and that it should be introduced as soon as possible after the election of a Labour government.
John Monks was hoping to present a united front to Mr Blair, who plans to set up a tripartite low-pay commission to advise a future Labour government. The Labour leader had intended to congratulate the TUC today on its decision to drop the issue of a fixed figure from tomorrow's debate as evidence of a "more mature, more modern and healthy relationship" between the party and unions.
Ken Jackson, acting general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said he had been "overwhelmed" by the response to his comments on Sunday. "In particular we seem to have struck a chord when we suggested a national minimum wage could be phased in.
Alan Jinkinson, leader of Unison, the public sector union, said pounds 3 an hour was a "betrayal of millions of workers who were looking to unions to lift them out of poverty". George Brumwell, leader of construction union Ucatt, who agreed to drop an amendment on a pounds 4.15 minimum after pressure from the labour leader, said: "The AEEU has not been involved in the minimum wage debate so far. It's opportunism."
Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "The TUC has set out a clear strategy and all affiliates should rally round that position."
Congress House officials are consulting unions with low-paid members and hope to publish a figure based on the formula in the new year.Reuse content