Wage Bill pushed ahead as Whitehall accused of low pay

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The Independent Online
The Government Bill to introduce the minimum wage was given a second reading in the Commons last night amid claims that some Whitehall departments were guilty of low payment to staff. Colin Brown , Chief Political Correspondent, says some Whitehall workers get as little as pounds 3.17 an hour.

Workers across Whitehall are being paid rates below the expected figure for the minimum wage, according to ministerial replies which were given as the legislation to stamp out low pay began its passage through the Commons.

The Commons replies to David Chidgey, a Liberal Democrat spokesman, showed that 1,351 full-time employees earn between pounds 3.17 and pounds 4.39 an hour at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The Lord Chancellor's office under Lord Irvine employs 202 full-time staff on hourly rates ranging from pounds 3.30 to pounds 3.50. About 25 full time staff at the Department of Education and Employment earn pounds 3.59 an hour.

The numbers of workers who are earning low pay are small, but the fact that low pay exists in Whitehall was being used by supporters of the low pay legislation as a lever to seek a higher minimum wage.

The Department of Health employs 106 full-time members of staff who are paid an hourly rate of pounds 3.65, while 15 are paid between pounds 3.66 and pounds 3.75 an hour and 23 are paid up to pounds 4.

Mr Chidgey said the figures showed that the introduction of a minimum wage could increase the Whitehall pay bill by pounds 1.5m. While his estimate is open to question, it does not include the thousands on low pay in the NHS hospitals.

The Liberal Democrats will be seeking to amend the Bill during its committee stage to allow greater flexibility, but Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, insisted that the minimum wage should be applied as a national rate.

The figure will be recommended to the Government next May by the Low Pay Commission.

John Redwood, the Conservative spokesman for Trade and Industry, led the Tories in opposing the Bill as an attack on jobs. He said the hotel and catering industries estimated that 90,000 jobs would go in their area if the minimum wage were fixed at pounds 4.26 an hour, and it would amount to 1 million job losses in the UK as a whole.

"The main winner from a minimum wage in the private sector will be the Treasury. The main losers will be those young, unskilled or disabled people looking for their first jobs," he said.