'Poverty' wage set

March 5, 1999

The introduction of the national minimum wage next month will boost the pay of nearly two million employees by an average of 30 per cent, according to a study out this week.

The study by David Metcalf, professor of industrial relations and member of the Low Pay Commission, which designed the package, says that half of the beneficiaries are female part-time workers. Almost two-thirds of the gains will go to households in the bottom fifth of income distribution.

The new rules set an hourly rate of Pounds 3.60 for those aged 22 and over, and Pounds 3 for 18 to 21-year-olds.

The NUS says about 15 per cent of 1.7 million students in higher education are on "poverty wages" of Pounds 3 an hour or less. "Students are often forced into taking the lowest paid jobs with some of the poorest working conditions just to make ends meet ... it is an insult to them," said a spokesman The union is concerned that thousands of 16 to 18-year-old students in further education have been left out. Professor Metcalf says a lower rate covering this age group was one of the most "contentious" matters discussed.

The study did not consider students as a distinct group. "The general feeling among all who gave evidence and the commission was that 16 to 18-year-olds in general should be in education and training and that it was not a top priority for the national minimum wage. But that does not mean it will not resurface."

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