Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Three Cheers for the Minimum Wage

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Three Cheers for the Minimum Wage

Article excerpt


PEOPLE sometimes say that there is only an inch between left and right but it's the inch we all actually live in.

As we mark its 10th anniversary, let's celebrate the national minimum wage which was strongly opposed by other parties, but is one of the best things my Government has done.

Back in 1997, I was a national officer of Unison, the biggest public sector union and a key organisation of many thousands of low-paid workers.

I am proud to be one of the few, if not the only, lay person called to give evidence to the Low Pay Commission as it worked out how to implement our manifesto commitment - one the Labour movement had urged for many decades.

My Government carried out this historic pledge for decent wages in the face of scare stories that it wouldn't work and would throw millions on the dole.

We ignored their counsel of despair. None of the claims of certain vested interests and other parties came about and society is much better for it.

My Government has increased the wage above inflation and brought in measures to police it so that skinflint employers don't get away with poverty wages and exploitation.

Ministers have increased the enforcement budget to give it more teeth. Rogue bosses who flout the minimum wage and fleece their staff will face tough new penalties. From Monday, Parliament has removed the upper limit of pounds 5,000 in fines for underpayment.

The most serious cases of non-compliance will go to Crown Court, which can impose an effectively unlimited penalty.

The Government is also bringing in a fairer method for dealing with national minimum wage arrears, calculated so that workers do not lose out through underpayment. In the last year the Government helped to restore nearly pounds 4m in arrears to more than 19,000 workers.

The inch we have taken should be widened in the future. I certainly want to protect and improve the national minimum and extend it to more young people. …

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