The minimum wage ... what will the Tories do?

In my post last night I was angry enough at the fact that the minimum wage was only going to be increased by 7p. But I was even more angry when I read of a Bill introduced in the Commons to allow workers to "opt out" of receiving the the minimum wage. It is due to receive its second reading this Friday.

Christopher Chope calls for minimum wage opt-out

Of course this particular bill is going to fail. But it does raise the question of what the Tories intend to do when they win the next UK general election. Tories don't introduce such bills for fun, they do it because they want to test out the water to help frame the policies they will adopt when they are in power.

It would be very bad for their image if they abolished the minimum wage completely, and they could easily not increase it allowing its relative value to fall over the years. But they obviously want to see if they can go further.

The idea of an "opt out" is deviously clever. It allows them to spin it along the lines of "widening choice" or "increasing employment opportunities to help aid recovery". So the language they use is that of freedom and rights. This is how Christopher Chope began his speech:

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those seeking employment in the public and private sectors.

Two months ago we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Article 23.1 states:

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party, states:

“The State Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right to work which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

It may come as a shock to many Members of this House to know that, currently, many people are not given the rights to work enshrined in those important United Nations articles.

But, after all the fine idealism, the bottom line is this:


This must be a comedy routine. I can't believe that anybody could really believe this, and I can only admire the consumate professionalism of someone able to deliver this sort of speech with a straight face.

Yet ConservativeHome said:

He made a very persuasive speech, and it should be noted that no-one rose to speak against it ...

So, pound to a penny, I reckon that this concept of an "opt out" along these lines will become a reality when the Tories are elected. Of course I could say that this is a reason not to vote Tory ... but that would be superfluous. It wouldn't matter if no-one in Wales voted Tory, there would still be a Tory government in Westminster, because more people in England vote for the Conservatives than for any other party (that was true even in the 2005 election, by the way).

So I'll say this instead: If we in Wales think that a minimum wage is an important tool to help reduce poverty and create a fairer, more equal and more inclusive society, we need to make sure that we have the ability to legislate on the matter through the National Assembly.

In particular I'd say this to Labour, because they can do something to help protect the minimum wage in Wales now, while they are still in power at Westminster.

But will they ... ?

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Anonymous said...

Sounds like a typical Tory thing to do, they haven't got the guts to scrap the minimum wage so they will have an opt out instead; let’s hope that some common sense prevails in the Commons.

MH said...

Sense will prevail for now, CoP. There's no chance of this particular bill getting through. It's what they will do after the 2010 election that we need to protect ourselves against.

Can you imagine how the Tories manifesto might be worded? Something like:

"We will seek to ensure that employment opportunities are widened. We will remove the uneccessary legal restrictions on an employee's right to accept, if they so choose, any suitable employment offered to them, in accordance the UK's international obligations under Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights."

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