released by the British Inland Revenue show that the
Six Counties are the UK's low pay black spot. Around
ten percent of arrears recovered from employers who
failed to pay the UK's minimum wage in 2001, representing
over one million pounds, was collected in the North,
which represents only three percent of UK's population.
The minimum wage in the UK is £3.20 per hour
for those aged between 18 and 21, and £4.20
for those over 22. It has been proved that Derry is
the worst place in non-payment of the minimum wage.
The worst sectors are catering, cleaning, hairdressing
and hospitality. Multinational companies are also
amongst the offenders. (Sunday Business Post,
20 October 2002) This is not to mention jobs where
wages are advertised officially over the minimum wage,
but where workers end up with a pay package below
it. Take for example the sort of jobs taken up by
Portuguese immigrant workers in the agrifood industry
in County Tyrone (like Moy Park Chicken Factory).
Though the jobs are advertised in local
papers at well over £5 per hour, the Portuguese
workers, after deduction for
tax and agency fees, are coming out with around £3.60
per hour (Sunday Tribune, 27 October 2002).
Apart from low wages, employers and companies also
impose workers longer work shifts. For example, according
to the Economic and Social Research Council, women
in the North are working an average of 2.1 hours more
a week than a decade ago. The younger the woman and
the lower paid the job, the highest the additional
number of hours tended to be (Irish News, 24
sort of strategies could be developed to fight such
examples of exploitation? It should first be noted
that there is little official encouragement to resist.
For example, social security agencies are encouraging
people to tout on false claimants. People are also
encouraged to tout on companies using software without
licences. But there are no official campaigns of television,
radio and newspaper advertisements encouraging naming
and shaming companies employing cheap labour. So a
campaign - such as that tried by the Socialist Party
some years ago - could be launched against those exploiting
employers by publicly naming and shaming them, boycotting
their products and services, etc. However, such a
strategy has clear limits. For the sake of argument,
let's imagine that all employers in the North raised
wages to £4.20 an hour; they could very well
increase the intensity and number of working hours.
And even if they didn't, it is
still difficult to make a living on £4.20 an
hour. So should the demand rather be to increase the
wage to £6.20, £8.20, or £10.20
or more per hour? Such a demand, even if appealing
is impractical and utopian. There is no way employers
would concede it. From the employer's point of view,
wages are a cost. The lower the costs, the higher
the profits, the higher the costs the lower the profits.
The employers will always seek to pay the minimum
possible. Beyond fighting for the minimum wage, it
is the abolition of wage labour and capital and the
totality of their relations that Republicans and Socialists
should be aiming at. Most of us would agree with the
slogan "slavery should be abolished" rather
than "slavery should be made more comfortable".
So why not put forward "it is forbidden to exploit
other people's labour" rather than "it is
forbidden to exploit other people's
labour below a determinate wage"?
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