Politics: Mandelson ignites union anger

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The Independent Online
Amid mounting union anger over a leaked Cabinet memorandum, Peter Mandelson yesterday denied he was trying to undermine the Government's national minimum wage policy.

The minister without portfolio insisted that in contrast to impressions gained by Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, he was not seeking "wide exemptions" from the national minimum wage. As part of a damage limitation exercise he declared that he was simply arguing for flexibility.

However, unions yesterday expressed deep concern about his intervention on the issue. Hector MacKenzie, associate general secretary of public service union Unison, called for an "end to interference" from ministers who were arguing for exemptions from the proposed statutory minimum wage. He said the Low Pay Commission should be allowed to get on with its work without interference.

Mr MacKenzie pointed out that there was increasing support among the business community for the proposed law. "People are not asking for a fortune, just a decent living wage for all workers."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, said that the kind of exceptions which Mr Mandelson seemed to be supporting would result in an "unfair and unenforceable mess".