Blair wins further support for delay on minimum wage

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Indy Politics
BY JOHN RENTOUL

and BARRIE CLEMENT

Tony Blair's "no figure" line on Labour's minimum-wage policy has cleared an important hurdle, winning approval of the party's powerful joint policy committee.

A new policy document makes clear that a figure will not be put on the minimum wage until after the next election: "The Labour government will have responsibility for implementing the minimum wage."

In another move which is also fiercely opposed by many in the party, it makes clear that employers will be consulted before the level is set. It proposes "a review body involving government, business, unions and others" to examine economic circumstances and social justice considerations before setting the wage rate.

The document was agreed on Tuesday night by the joint committee of the Shadow Cabinet and Labour's National Executive, after a long-running battle between Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, and John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, on the party's economic policy commission. Mr Edmonds has led union demands for a figure.

The executive of the Trades Union Congress yesterday accepted defeat as the general secretary, John Monks, said: "The commitment to the principle is clear, as is the right of unions to hold their own view."

Mr Monks said the party's proposal for a low-pay commission was clearly no part of any deal between the unions and Labour. "If we were writing it, it would have been written differently," he said. However, he did not think the plan was incompatible with unions' insistence that a minimum wage should be struck at half male median earnings.

He indicated that TUC leaders would argue for the formula when the commission met. However, Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, the party's largest affiliate, is opposed to the principle of allowing employers an input on the decision.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said the Labour leader "remains convinced that there's widespread public support for the principle of a minimum wage". Labour will test its new line in an Opposition debate in the Commons next Wednesday. The document will go to the party conference in Brighton in October.

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