GET TO NEWCASTLE on Saturday 10 April
Assemble 11.30am, Gateshead Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne
Called by UNISON and backed by the TUC and most major unions
TENS OF thousands of trade unionists and young people are marching in Newcastle on Saturday. They are demanding a decent minimum wage. A minimum wage of £3.60 an hour for workers over the age of 21 was introduced by the Labour government last week. Young workers aged between 18 and 21 only get a minimum of £3 an hour, and those under 18 are entitled to no minimum level at all. The result will be to leave millions of workers still living on poverty pay.
Most trade unions wanted a minimum of £4.79 an hour for all workers. But the government has retreated in the face of pressure from the very bosses who pay poverty pay. Many companies could seek to avoid paying even these miserable rates. The official Low Pay Commission warned last week that some 200,000 people will still be paid less than the minimum they are now legally entitled to. This is because the government has done next to nothing to ensure the new minimum will be properly enforced. There are just 115 inspectors for the whole country. GMB union leader John Edmonds says, "There are two million workplaces. We reckon each one will be inspected once every 30 years."
The fines bosses will face for ignoring the minimum are also a joke. Companies face penalties of just £7.20 a day per worker for paying under the legal minimum. For an eight hour day that means it could be cheaper for companies to pay £2.60 an hour even with the fine on topand that is if they get caught out. A Low Pay Commission member said last week, "The fines are not large enough. As compared with people who defraud social security, they are anything but excessive. Companies may decide it is worth trying to get away with it."
One recent survey found that even as the new rates became law companies were advertising jobs below the new minimum levels. One job in Bradford was being advertised at £2 an hour. In Glasgow job centres over 30 jobs advertised last week paid below the new minimum rates. One job centre in Birmingham had more than 50 jobs advertised below the £3.60 level, with some paying as low as £2.60 an hour. A survey by the UNISON public sector workers' union confirmed the same picture. It found that 42 percent of vacancies in job centres in Plymouth and Truro in Cornwall were paying £3.60 or less.
Some bosses make little secret of wanting poverty pay levels for workers. Ray Baker of Black Country Tyre and Exhaust Centre in Tipton, West Midlands, told the Press Association, "The people I have working here are happy on the money I pay themabout £2.90 an hour." The Press Association did not report whether the workers shared Baker's sentiment.
Saturday's protest needs to be the start of a serious campaign to force New Labour to:
But it is also clear that trade unionists need to take the initiative in fighting to force bosses to pay even the levels that are now law. Companies paying below the new legal rates should be targeted and unions should organise to force bosses to pay.
EMPLOYERS' ORGANISATIONS have claimed that the minimum wage will cost jobs in areas like distribution, hotels and restaurants. Yet figures out last week showed that is a myth. The reputable Incomes Data Services reported that "employment in distribution, hotels and restaurants grew by 103,000 in 1998 at a time when many firms were beginning to adjust wages upwards in response to the national minimum wage."
THIS IS Jan Leschly. He grabs £496 a minute. He is the boss of the drugs company SmithKline- Beecham and gets £93 million a year. Leschly gets more in one minute and 15 seconds than someone on the minimum wage will earn in a month.