North: End the Low Pay Scandal

by Gary Mulcahy

Socialist Voice January 2003

POVERTY PAY is the grim reality for tens of thousands of workers across Northern Ireland. Before Christmas the End Low Pay Campaign run by the Socialist Party ran its annual Scrooge of the Year Competition. The winner, for reasons that are explained inside, was Sir George Bain. But there was plenty of competition. In fact the Campaign stalls were inundated with nominations.

These included a very prominent Belfast restaurant which advertises itself in posters and billboards around the town and which was paying staff 3.00 an hour and a floor manager 4.10 an hour. It got away with it by paying the wages cash in hand from the till at the end of every night.

It was not alone. A host of companies are still paying wages in the region of 3.00 an hour and getting away with it by various means. Most are in the retail or hospitality sectors and many are well known firms. Prize for the lowest wage went to a joinery firm who are paying a magnificent 1 an hour.

Not much better are a large firm of electrical engineers who pay 'trainees' 1.75 an hour. Then there are a number of Supervalue and Costcutter outlets who pay between 2.10 and 2.40. In all well over 100 companies were reported to the Campaign.

This scandalous situation must be challenged. The End Low Pay Campaign now intends to return to the Name and Shame and direct action tactics that proved very effective in forcing employers to raise wages in the past.

The worst of the companies that received Scrooge nominations in December, but who did not win the award, will now be top of the list for attention. The Campaign will be returning to the streets gathering more information.

The problem with the minimum wage is that it has been set far too low. At present it is only 40 for over 21s and 3.50 for those between 18 and 21. The fact that there is no minimum rate for under 18s gives employers a green light to pay anything they feel like.

On top of this the pathetic recourses given over to enforcement of the legislation mean that there are a hundred and one loopholes that allow employers to find a way around it.

The End Low Pay campaign is demanding a 6 minimum for all from age 16 up. We are also calling for proper enforcement. During the years that the Assembly was up and running absolutely nothing was done to rectify the scandal of low wages. We can expect no better from the New Labour Ministers now in charge.

This leaves us with no choice but to campaign and take direct action to force this issue onto the agenda and to expose publicly the miserly wages that are being routinely paid. If you are being paid peanuts contact the Campaign on Belfast 90232962.

See the other report on the Low Pay Campaigns awarding the 2002 Scrooge of the Year nomination to Sir George Bain just before Xmas. This is on our campaigns page.