Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/457/5489
Age discrimination and the minimum wage
ON 1 OCTOBER, new EU legislation banned age discrimination in the workplace for workers under 65, in what some reports are calling: "The biggest shake-up of workplace laws for 30 years".
This poses a problem for British employment law. As Olly Scott of the British Chamber of Commerce points out: "The government's own minimum wage law discriminates against people on the grounds of age".
The minimum wage for workers aged 16 and 17 is only £3.30 per hour; rising to £4.45 for workers aged 18-21 and £5.35 for the over 21s. Essentially the younger you are the worse your pay can legally be.
The government tries to justify these supposed "development bands" on the grounds that they 'protect' young workers from being laid-off.
But if the government was really concerned about 'protecting' young workers, why don't they introduce legislation making it harder for employers to lay workers off whatever their age? Then all workers could receive the higher level minimum wage.
Of course the reason the government doesn't do this is to keep the profits of the Labour Party's big-business friends healthy.
The government also argues that the paltry level of the minimum wage for young workers encourages them to stay on in education! But the government's own record of ending grants and bringing in tuition fees shows the concern they have for young people in education.
At the same time as forcing students to take a job while studying, they institutionalise poverty pay!
So the current minimum wage levels for the under-21s could be open to a legal challenge. But, with the huge vested business interests involved in keeping under-21s' wages down, whoever mounts a challenge will have quite a job on their hands.
A ruling against this discrimination, bringing the pay for under-21s in line with that of older workers, would be a step forward.
However, to campaign for a living wage for all workers, an end to all forms of workplace discrimination and to ensure that any legislative changes are enforced requires workers to be organised in trade unions, otherwise legislation can turn out to be just another unread bit of paper.
In The Socialist 5 October 2006:
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