Various Conservative MPs have put forward Private Member’s Bills that would, if they became law, water down to the point of uselessness the National Minimum Wage.
I think I counted three that were currently going through the process.
The first is the Employment Opportunities Bill, that would allow ‘opt-outs’ of the Minimum Wage, though anyone who has worked for an agency will know there will certainly be situations where if you want to sign up for an agency to get work part of the contract would include an opt-out of the Minimum Wage. We already have enough problems enforcing the Minimum Wage without creating complexity through opt-outs. This was the bill that started the whole Wage Concern campaign – the group still exists on Facebook and I’ve started updating it again now that the Minimum Wage is coming back into prominence after Chope’s last defeat on the issue. This was of course also the bill that Shipley MP, Philip Davies supported, saying he wanted to have a debate on the issue before promptly making no reference to it on any leaflet he produced that went to tens of thousands of households across Shipley.
The second bill is the one that’s just been chopped, a Minimum Wage Amendment Bill, that would force the Low Pay Commission to look at areas with above-average unemployment rates and automatically set the Minimum Wage at a lower rate, which the Government would be obliged to enact. As Paul Waugh’s blog makes clear (you can read the link by going to our Facebook page) the bill has been nobbled by the Government, who obviously want to keep the public in the dark as much as possible about the anti-Minimum Wage tendencies of its own MPs. It’s currently down for a second reading on the 18th March but it is unlikely to be read given he has pulled it once already.
The third bill is the Training Wage Bill, which will again allow opt-outs of the Minimum Wage for people who are training. Its next reading will be on the 18th March.
All these bills are supported by similar Tory MPs, though Philip Davies is conspicuous by his absence from these bills given his previous support for the Employment Opportunities Bill.
What I don’t really understand is why, if Chope feels so strongly about the issue, does he keep pulling his own bill? He must have known the government wouldn’t support anything that would undermine the Minimum Wage, even if secretly many Tory MPs shared Chope’s view (and let’s not forget Cameron campaigned strongly against the Minimum Wage when it was introduced).
I’ll be keeping tabs on how these bills progress, Chope has said he still wants to debate his Training Wage Bill, so we’ll see what happens. Personally I’d like these debates to go ahead so we can flush out the Tories who really think we should be scrapping the Minimum Wage, or at least the ones who have the guts to admit it.
UPDATE: A fuller, more updated version of this post will be appearing on Labourlist later this afternoon. I’ll post a link once it’s up. Quite bizarrely this post has been retweeted by George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (and now Johann Hari) within the space of a couple of hours!