T&G bites back on pounds 4 minimum wage

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Indy Politics

Labour Editor

The leader of the Labour Party's largest affiliate yesterday questioned the morality of Tony Blair's policies towards a national minimum wage.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said he found assertions that the country might not be able to afford pounds 4.15 an hour "a little bit immoral".

In one of his toughest speeches yet, Mr Blair told the union's biennial conference in Blackpool on Monday that any attempt to force the Labour Party to stick to a formula would be "counterproductive".

Hitting back at the Labour leader yesterday, Mr Morris reminded delegates that the existing policy of the party was that the minimum should be set at half male earnings, producing the pounds 4.15 lower limit.

The T&G leader said he had no apologies to make for consistently arguing in favour of the figure. "Anyone who challenges us that we have no right to be speaking up for pounds 4 an hour for the low- paid had better get down to the grass roots and talk to the low-paid, to the people who are struggling to survive on less than pounds 4 an hour."

In a clear reference to Mr Blair and his camp of "modernisers", he said that policies seemed to be made on the basis of opinion polls rather than on conviction. He pointed out that in a "modernising" spirit the T&G had commissioned a poll which showed that 68 per cent of electors supported establishing a pounds 4.15 minimum.

The newly re-elected T&G leader urged all MPs, including presumably Mr Blair, to read the union's pamphlet, The Scourge of Low Pay, which called for a crusade to end the social injustice of poverty wages.

He said that the figure backed by his union would benefit 4.5 million people, 3 million of whom were part-time female workers and 200,000 "doubly disadvantaged" black workers.

The 700 T&G delegates voted for a proposition demanding a formula of half male median earnings, with just one vote against. However, the motion did not put a monetary value on the formula, which can be made to produce a figure lower than pounds 4, as the TUC has pointed out. T&G officials said there was no question of the union softening its line.

Seconding the resolution, Penny Iveson, a pounds 3.50-an-hour cleaner from Brighton, said Mr Blair's promise of a national minimum wage was "meaningless" if a figure was not put on it. She predicted that the low pay commission that would be established under a Labour government would produce a figure of pounds 3 an hour which would only benefit 1 million workers.

Ms Iveson said the Labour leadership was trying to avoid a debate on the issue at the party's annual conference in October.

The T&G should ensure that the issue was met "head-on". Tony Blair "must not be allowed to duck and weave and get away with telling the unions that it is none of their business. If this is not our business, what is?"

The T&G was quite rightly at the forefront of demands for a legal minimum wage, she added.