Minimum pay is Labour priority

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Labour intends to put its proposals for a National Minimum Wage in the first Queen's Speech of a Tony Blair government.

Westminster party sources, keen to avert a politically embarrassing revolt at the Trades Union Congress over the issue, also disclosed yesterday that Labour's Low Pay Commission would be a statutory body aimed at creating "social partnership" with unions and employers.

The TUC is certain to endorse a pounds 4-an-hour target for the minimum wage, and the largest trade union, Unison, wants that to increase in time to around pounds 5.50 - two-thirds of male manual earnings.

Labour leaders and TUC officials are working to head off a serious split over the issue. The final version of the unions' bid will be presented as a submission to the Low Pay Commission, rather than a political obligation on Mr Blair and his Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Labour's confidential blueprint for a minimum wage, and statutory provision to endorse it, has been drawn up by Ian McCartney, the front-bench Employment spokesman. It is now on Mr Blair's desk.

Party sources said: "We regard the Low Pay Commission as a most important building block. It is one of our priorities. It is in the "Road to the Manifesto". The CBI and the TUC know there is a commitment to operate it." They added that legislation on the issue would be in the first Queen's Speech if Labour wins the election.

Primary legislation would not be necessary to set up a Low Pay Commission, comprising members from both sides of industry and independent figures, and this would be set up "as soon as effectively possible".

In a report last week, the Institute of Personnel and Development argued that there should be a lower minimum wage for young workers from 16 to 25, and for other workers undergoing training. A minimum wage of pounds 3.50 an hour would threaten "few, if any" jobs.