Tuesday, 14 September 1999

TUC President's speech -John Monks

National Minimum Wage

Mr John Monks (General Secretary) leading in on the debate on the National
Minimum Wage and moving paragraph 2.5 of the General Council report, said:
President and Congress, the young people who you have just seen on the video
put the case, I think, very well. The minimum wage is a good thing, young
adults should get it and we need to get the minimum wage higher. I want to
expand on those three points.

This Congress is the first to meet with a national minimum wage actually in
place, protecting the lowest paid in this country. We should never
under-estimate what this means - that 2 million working people, the majority
of them women working part-time, are benefitting from the national minimum
wage. Those receiving it received an average rise of wages of around 30%, and
no longer can employers drive wages down as low as people's desperation will
let them. We must never under-estimate our own achievement, the achievement
of the trade union Movement and our allies, in fighting against low pay, in
finally bringing this long-championed cause to fruition. There is some room
for a little bit of celebration and congratulations that we have been

However, young adults deserve more. The lower rate for 18-21 year olds is
unfair. The young people in the video said it. Why should they be paid less
for doing the same job? In line with the bulk of industry agreements, we want
to see the adult rate paid from aged 18. This is a key element that we are
currently pressing with the Low Pay Commission.

Congress, we are asking you to oppose the amendment in the name of the Bakers,
Food and Allied Workers Union as it is written. We want the adult rate at 18,
but we have also always recognised that lower rates can be appropriate for
particular types of trainees, for apprentices and other people being trained
for National Vocational Qualifications.

Quality, though, is the key. We are certainly asking the Low Pay Commission
to monitor the take-up of the development rate for adults. If getting a fair
deal for young adults is one priority, then up-rating the national minimum
wage is another. We said at the time that we believed that 3.60 was too low,
and the experience since April, when the national minimum wage was introduced,
certainly bears us out. Of course, and I think Stephen Byers said it, the
doom mongers have been proved totally wrong. Motivated by political
opposition to the principle of the national minimum wage, the Tories and
others predicted up to half-a-million job losses. What has happened?
Employment has continued to grow and, especially, in those sectors where most
national minimum wage recipients are employed. So the rate must be raised.
A higher rate could be sustained without job losses. The low paid deserve

In work poverty must be tackled and tackled effectively. We know that the
national minimum wage has an important role to play here, as does the Working
Families Tax Credit, which was launched just last week by the Government,
giving a guaranteed income to those with children working more than 16 hours a
week. We believe that the two initiatives taken together make a vital
difference to working people, but only if the national minimum wage is set at
a reasonable level which gives tangible benefits to the low paid. Otherwise
the Government will find that they are simply subsidising the exploitative

We are asking you to support Motion 19 as amended by UNISON. Four years ago we
launched a campaign for a collective bargaining target of 4 at Congress. In
the organised sector, that target has largely been achieved. Today, we want
to update this campaign and launch the new collective bargaining target of
5 a hour.

We recognise that our collective bargaining target will always need to be
higher than the minimum wage, and the UNISON amendment raises the issue of an
increase in the statutoryminimum. We know that we will need, very quickly, to
be giving serious thought to what our figure should be. I do not think that
now, actually, is the time to go into precise figures. We have not had that
debate yet. The top priority is for the Government to make an up-rating
reference to the Low Pay Commission next year once it has received the LPC's
report on monitoring, evaluation and young people.

We want a higher minimum wage, we want a fair deal for young people, we
recognise that the minimum wage is a historic milestone in the fight against
poverty and exploitation, and I am proud to move Chapter 2.5 of the General
Council's Report and the General Council's Statement on the National Minimum
Wage. Thank you.

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