The national minimum wage has increased from £5.52 to £5.73 an hour for adult workers.

The statutory hourly rate for 18 to 22-year-olds has also risen from £4.60 to £4.77. The rise for those between the ages of 16 and 17 is up 13p an hour to £3.53. The rise comes with the warming that businesses that do not adhere to the pay scale will be heavily penalised.

Some unions have called for a bigger rise to cope with the rising cost of food and utility bills. The prime minister Gordon Brown said he would increase wages again in March.

The rise comes after the 1p-year anniversary of the introduction of the minimum wage, which was first set at £3.60 an hour.

Employment Relations Minister Pat McFadden said that “The minimum wage has made a lasting and significant difference to the low paid, with around a million workers benefiting from the increase each year”.

“It is vital that we safeguard this right with effective enforcement, which is why we’re bringing in tough new penalties for those who flout the law.”

The government currently has plans to introduce new regulations in April that will impose a £5,000 automatic fine on any employer failing to pay the minimum rate.

Serious cases could lead to a prosecution in a crown court where there is no limit to the fine that could be set. A helpline has also been set up for people to report on the mistreatment of workers and illegal pay rates.

“With rogue employers constantly seeking new ways to evade paying the minimum wage, the government must be vigilant in enforcing it,” said Dave Prentis, general secretary of public sector union Unison.

“The rise to £5.73 is a welcome cushion, however, with the price of everyday essentials such as food, gas and electricity going up massively, it won’t lift enough working people out of the poverty trap.

“A more realistic figure would be £6.75 an hour – a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, regardless of age.”

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