Old Labour weighs in with warnings on minimum wage

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The Independent Online
Old Labour continued its assault on the Government yesterday when two of the party's biggest benefactors warned ministers against setting a lower minimum wage for young people. Following last week's broadside from the labour movement over union recognition, John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union and Rodney Bickerstaffe, of Unison, the public-service union, opened a new front on low pay.

Mr Edmonds, considered to be a moderate, said plans to exempt youngsters from statutory minimum pay or subject them to a lower rate risked alienating a large section of the working population.Mr Bickerstaffe, a left-winger, said the minimum should be the same for all workers.

While Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, had asked the Low Pay Commission (LPC) to consider a lower statutory minimum or exemption for those under 26, Mr Edmonds understood it was now possible it might be applied to under-21-year-olds.

Last week Bill Morris and Ken Jackson, leaders respectively of the Transport and General Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, warned the Government that a White Paper on a union-recognition law would have to meet the movement's aspirations or they would call for an emergency TUC congress.

Yesterday the GMB leader said Treasury briefings and "mood music" from the LPC led him to believe there would a different statutory minimum wage for young people which would be damaging to their morale and "in direct contradiction" to the rest of government policy. Later the Unison leader issued a statement repeating its call for a rate of pounds 4.61 an hour "for all workers".

Mr Edmonds said that while there was a case for a lower rate for trainees, everyone on work should receive the same rate. Launching a campaign to dissuade minister from "discriminatory age rates", he said a lower rate for under-26-year-olds was so ridiculous it was not worth discussing; a lower rate for those under 21 would create a feeling of "rage". The union released a MORI poll among 1,000 young people showing that four out of five rejected a lower rate. The GMB has campaigned for a national minimum of more than pounds 4 an hour and most respondents said it should be set at more than pounds 3.50. One in five favoured a minimum in excess of pounds 4.50.

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