Unbeknownst to many of you folk out there, this Friday (May 15th) a small bunch of insidious Tory MPs will continue their quest to banish the National Minimum Wage, one of the few successes of the New Labour government.
The Commons will hear the Second Reading of the Employment Opportunities Bill, which aims to make possible the opportunity for employers to opt out of the Minimum Wage, supposedly to encourage more people to get back to work.
The thinking is that people are willing to work for a lower wage if it means they can simply get out of unemployment and has been proposed by Christopher Chope and sponsored by ten other Tory backbenchers.
The minimum wage was introduced to protect workers from exploitation from unscrupulous employers and was fiercely opposed by Tories at the time who argued it would lead to job losses when in fact it helped countless workers by finally giving them a fair wage.
Now they want to effectively abolish it, using the cloak of the Human Rights Act to argue that it imposes unfair restrictions on people's opportunities to work. (This being the Human Rights Act they want to get rid of...)
In the first reading of the bill, Chope said the first people who would benefit are those immigrants seeking work. No doubt they'll benefit in as much as they'll be used as cheap labour.
He also points out that pay cuts aren't just happening in the private sector and refers to Ireland where members of Parliament and senior civil servants have taken a ten per cent pay cut. Does it not occur to him that these people are on significantly higher pay than those in minimum wage paying jobs?
Chope also states that around one million people are working for less than the minimum wage in the so called 'black economy'. The answer isn't to legitimise this, but to combat it and improve the conditions of those working for less.
Furthermore, the bill would force public sector bodies to advertise their vacancies externally, so as to open up more jobs to the wider labour market and give more people the chance to break into the 'magic circle'.
This explains why nine of the eleven sponsors of this bill employ their partners in their offices. (Only Nigel Evans and Brian Binley don't employ family members)
In the House today, Tory MP, Nicholas Winterton said:
"Shouldn't we seek to minimise the cost to employers of employing people, ie, to provide them with an incentive, particularly at this time, to employ people."
This perhaps shows the real motive behind the bill, which is to improve the financial position of the employers, rather than the employees. The Conservatives have never cared about the worker, don't be fooled into thinking this is a change of heart.
Providing an opt out to the minimum wage is a dangerous thing to do. The Tories say it will empower people who are seeking work, but the only people it will empower are the employers who will have more leverage when negotiating pay.
The minimum wage is an important safeguard that protects the lowest paid workers and anything that gnaws away at this will only incentivise employers to go below what is an acceptable wage in return of work in times of high unemployment.
The bill will be read for a second time on Friday. John Prescott and the Usdaw and Unison unions are campaigning against it. To find out more about the bill and what you can do to fight it, visit the Wage Concern website.