LETTER: Vive la differential

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The Independent Online
From Mr Jeff Rooker, MP

Sir: Free collective bargaining failed the low paid and for this reason the trades unions now support a statutory minimum wage policy ("Unions to set low-pay target", 24 August). For most trades unions this is the opposite to what they said under the last Labour government when I and many others argued the case for a minimum wage.

But just because some trades union leaders are changing one platform for another does not mean we allow them to avoid the consequences of what is in reality a statutory incomes policy. And the key consequence which I have so far not heard a single general secretary address is the need for legal regulation of differentials.

It is no good telling the new Labour government we can rely on collective bargaining to control differentials - it failed the low paid and is unreliable as an instrument of policy.

When I was a manager in manufacturing industry responsible for pay bargaining and setting up new schemes in the late 1960s, differentials were the largest single source of wage drift putting pressure on unit costs. They are important to people, and I have to say my experience then and messages from constituents now is that they remain important.

So if a minimum wage policy is to be part of a work-for-all strategy, which helps confine exploitation of the jobless and low paid to history, we have to be honest enough to make it clear that during the phased introduction of a statutory minimum wage system differentials will have to be regulated by law.

Yours,

Jeff Rooker

MP for Birmingham Perry Barr

(Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

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