Nearly half the 16-year-olds who leave school are paid less than pounds 1.50 an hour and their average wage has dropped in real terms by one-fifth in five years, according to research published today.
The average hourly pay for school-leavers was pounds 1.63 in 1995 compared with pounds 1.69 in 1990, the Low Pay Unit has found in an analysis of data from the careers service and JobCentres in Greater Manchester. That represents a fall in cash terms of 3.6 per cent, but a drop of 18.9 per cent when the cost of living is taken into account.
The unit, which believes its data reflects the national picture, found that nearly 55 per cent of the jobs for 16-year-olds and 48 per cent of those for 17-year-olds paid below the National Insurance threshold - at present pounds 58. In 1990, about 10 per cent of jobs for 16-year-olds and 7 per cent for 17-year-olds were under the minimum.
Gabrielle Cox, author of the report, said: "It is bad enough for adult workers to face exploitation, but a society which allows its young people to be treated in this way must question its sense of values."
Case studies showed that one 16-year-old was paid pounds 30 for a 40-hour week in a garage. When he inquired about compensation for losing the top of a finger at work, he was told he was a "sub-contractor".
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