Unions to seek minimum wage of pounds 3.60

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Labour Editor

The union movement is likely to set a target figure for a national minimum wage before the general election of just over pounds 3.60 an hour, according to TUC sources yesterday.

The TUC's "official bid" will be revealed next spring after Congress House completes a period consultation with trade unions.

Whatever the final figure, the Government will seek to portray it as a "demand" upon the Labour Party and warn that it will cost a considerable number of jobs. Officials at the TUC are, however, aware of the political sensitivity of any target and will attempt to keep the figure as low as possible to minimise the burden on Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

Senior party figures and the TUC leadership are trying to ensure that amendments tabled for next month's annual Congress calling for a minimum of pounds 4.15 are "lost" in the compositing process before the conference.

It is understood that even the left-led Transport & General may join the more moderate GMB general union in private attempts to persuade the firefighters' and construction unions to drop their demand.

A senior official of one of the big unions yesterday said that while official TUC policy would still call for a minimum set at half male median earnings, demands for a figure of pounds 4.15 were "simply poking Tony Blair in the eye with a stick".

If the pounds 4.15 goes before Congress, however, it is difficult to see how the three biggest affiliates - Unison, T&G and the GMB - could argue against it.

A statement certain to be passed by next month's TUC Congress will reiterate the official union movement's support for the formula. But it will also point out that the calculation could produce any figure between pounds 3.60 and pounds 4.15 an hour.

Even pounds 3.60 will probably prove unpalatably high for Mr Blair who has said that a future Labour administration would create a low-pay commission to advise the Government.

Harriet Harman, the party's employment spokeswoman, has recently focused her attention on the figure of pounds 2.50 an hour which she calculates would mean pay raises for 1.3 million people.

At a briefing yesterday John Monk, TUC general secretary, insisted that no monetary value had yet been placed on a minimum by the TUC. But he said his organisation would, specify a figure before the next election which he characterised as a "target" or a "bid" rather than a demand.

He pointed out that the official TUC statement on the national minimum wage was passed unanimously by the ruling general council with no hint of dissent from any quarter.

Mr Monks indicated that he would continue his efforts to persuade the Fire Brigades' Union and construction union Ucatt to drop their demands"in the most fraternal ways possible".

He conceded, however, that both propositions could be passed by the annual Congress.