I’m very interested in the rights of minority, vulnerable or marginalised groups. This post will specifically deal with one issue close to the rights of workers and young people.
First, a little background. Asides from being a student, I’m a barman working in a sport and social club near my home. I started working there as a glass collector when I was 16 in 2005, and 3 years later I’m still there, although not whilst I’m away at university, then I have a different job. When I started I was earning £4.85 an hour, which at the time was minimum wage for over 21’s. That was pretty good for a 16 year old then, and the equivalent now with inflation is £5.52. Every member of the bar staff was on the same hourly rate.
Now I’m 19 and I’m back home working there. Technically I’m a new employee because I needed a P45 to give to my employer at university, and when I got my payslip for my first month’s wages this week, I was horrified to find that my rate of pay had dropped to £4.60 an hour. Apparently, since I’ve been gone and the new bosses have taken over, they’ve realised they can legally get away with paying their employees a lot less than they had been, so every new employee has been given the bare minimum rate of pay. This isn’t a massive problem for over 18’s because minimum wage is fairly decent, but for the glass collectors and waiters at 16, the minimum wage is £3.40 an hour. That was a terrible rate of pay even when I was that age! My predicament’s been sorted so I’m actually on more than I was before, but it means I’m standing next to someone who’s on less pay than me, even though we’re doing the same job. Why?
It makes me wonder why the minimum wage is different for people of different ages at all. At 16, I can leave school and home, go and get a job and survive on my own, if I wanted to. I could be doing exactly the same job as someone who’s 18 and they get paid more, and we could be doing the same job as someone who’s 22 and they’re getting paid even more. Why? 16, 18 and 22 year olds can be in the same financial position with the same needs, but they get paid differently.
There are arguments that a 22 year old is more skilled and experienced than an 18 year old, but that’s not always the case. I know people in their 20’s at university who’ve never done a day’s work in their life, and then I know 16 and 17 year olds who work hard for their money, often in customer service but also in construction and plumbing. If you want to reward experience and skill then the minimum wage shouldn’t merely be based on age. That is blatant age discrimination.
Fortunately, some employers (such as ASDA, and mine when I first started) see the nonsense in this and pay everyone the same if they’re doing the same job. It’s only when you start doing a different job when you enter a different pay grade. Maybe one day the government will see sense and will make the minimum wage for different aged groups either closer together (£3.40 is an outrage – I wouldn’t get out of bed for that), or the same.