Next week, the minimum wage will rise to £5.80. Since it was first introduced in the teeth of Conservative opposition, the minimum wage has risen by 81.25%, far outstripping a decade of low inflation. Does anyone believe the Tories would have raised it above inflation so consistently?
Since its introduction, Labour has also legislated to ensure tips do not count towards the minimum wage and that there are the toughest powers in Europe for rogue employers who break the law. The Conservatives voted against the introduction of the minimum wage and its strengthening, which went through Parliament last year.
In addition, David Cameron opposed longer maternity and paternity leave and flexible working – so much for Cameron’s compassionate conservatism.
Only a Labour government can truly protect workers’ rights. The minimum wage remains one of Labour’s most powerful expressions of our values in action. I am immensely proud of the difference it makes to the lives of the UK’s million lowest paid workers.
But as thoughts turn towards a general election, I am also aware that the minimum wage is far from safe. The Tories’ opposition to the support that Labour is giving to people during the recession shows how out of touch they are. It seems that Cameron has decided the targets for his myopic and siren calls for an “Age of Austerity”: not the bankers with huge bonuses, or the millionaire estate owners, or the lucky few who earn over £100,000 a year – all of them will be safe if there is a Conservative government.
Instead, Cameron has called for the abolition of the Low Pay Commission, calling it a “useless quango” he that he’s going to put on the “bonfire”. In addition to setting the minimum wage, the Low Pay Commission also advises on enforcement against rogue employers. Rogue employers need to be exposed – enforcement of the minimum wage is a vital component of fair competition (an issue which Cameron waxes lyrical about). Proper enforcement is in the interests of reputable businesses who pay the minimum wage and don’t want to see themselves undercut by rogue employers who don’t.
This is yet another example of how Cameron’s hands-off, devil-take-the-hindmost economic obsession actually damages British competitiveness.
Only Labour is committed, heart and soul, to defending the minimum wage. The Liberal Democrats initially opposed the minimum wage, calling it “misconceived”. Vince Cable, who the Liberal Democrats wheel out at every opportunity as their economic sage said increasing the minimum wage above the rate of inflation set a “dangerous precedent”. How is it possible to oppose increasing the minimum wage above the rate of inflation on Tuesday, and then tell us you want to see greater equality on Wednesday? The Lib Dems, like the Tories, cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen the minimum wage.
If you think a rogue employer is not paying up then get in touch with the national minimum wage helpline on 0845 6000 678. And don’t worry, you don’t have to give your name or details to them if you don’t want to.