On 1st April, their much-trumpeted and obscenely mis-named 'National Living Wage' takes effect. But you have to be 25 or over to qualify. And £7.20 an hour is nothing like a living wage. In their own hidden government documents, Cameron and Osborne more accurately label this a 'Minimum Wage Premium'. It's an extra 50p for those reaching their 25th birthday, compared to the miserly National Minimum Wage suffered by millions aged 18-24, not to mention the insulting pittance earned by younger workers and apprentices.
The Tories' scheme is a conscious campaign to confuse the hell out of people about what constitutes a real living wage - as well as being yet another layer of age wage discrimination, which also threatens to displace 'older' workers with dirt-cheap younger wage-slaves.
No Street Parties!
Anyone over 25 getting an extra 50p an hour will welcome it. Even more welcome is the £8.25 Living Wage Foundation figure which 500 employers in Scotland have now signed up to - voluntarily, as this scheme has no legal standing, and is purely at the whims and fancies of employers. A scandalous 29% of women and 18% of men still earn less than this £8.25.
But street parties are not about to break out across the nation! Neither the £6.70 minimum wage for 18-24-year-olds, nor its £7.20 'premium' rate bear any resemblance to a living wage that guarantees a decent life for workers. Nor indeed is the voluntary, unenforceable £8.25 - even according to its own authors! Back last summer, the Living Wage Foundation admitted that if their calculations stopped assuming reliance on a full uptake of in-work benefits - such as Child and Working Tax Credits - the London Living Wage rate would have to rocket from £9.15 to £11.65!
And of course the Tories are hellbent on slashing such in-work benefits. Despite being forced to temporarily retreat on their more blatant version of cuts to Tax Credits a few months ago, they are still brutally cutting them by a combination of a freeze on the amount paid, literal cuts through the new Universal Credit, and new sanctions against part-time workers they deem to not be sufficiently seeking additional hours of work.
Taking these attacks into account, the Resolution Foundation recently calculated that despite the Tories' misnamed 'National Living Wage', by 2020 the poorest 30% of the population will lose an average of £565 a year, with the example of a low-earning couple with three kids being a shocking £3,000 a year worse off.
SSP Pioneers of £10 now!
The Scottish Socialist Party has consistently and persistently fought for a legally enforced national minimum wage set at the modest level of two-thirds male median earnings - £10-an-hour in today's Scotland. That's the minimum required to climb out of depending on top-up benefits. That's the least required to afford a very basic standard of living. It's still just £18,200 a year for somebody working a 35-hour week, hardly the route to becoming a millionaire.
We have always demanded that the multiple lower youth rates should be scrapped, with the £10 minimum guaranteed to all workers and apprentices from the age of 16 upwards. That would also help prevent employers turbo-charging their profits by displacing older workers by super-exploited young people, which is precisely one of the Tories' motivations in their bogus 'National Living Wage' at 25.
The demand for a £10 minimum for all workers was unanimously agreed at the TUC conference way back in September 2014. The time is rotten-ripe for the unions to act on this policy. Not for a £10 minimum in 2020 or some other distant date, but now. Unlike all other parties, that's what the SSP is demanding, as are our allies in the May elections, RISE.
Slashing Real Wages
In fighting for this modest but radical wage rise, the unions and socialists also need to organise ferocious resistance to cuts in other payments, conditions of work and hours of work that are - right now - transforming hourly pay rises into actual pay cuts for tens of thousands of workers.
Capitalist employers have howled their anguish at even paying £7.20 to those old enough. Other profiteers have won massive Brownie points in the media for signing up as Living Wage Employers, giving a grandiose £8.25 to those who produce profits frequently measured in £billions rather than £millions. Meantime, behind the backs of society, smothered in silence from the mainstream media, these same employers are systematically slashing the incomes of many of their workers.
Retail giants like Tescos and Morrisons have scrapped double time premium payments for working Sundays.
In response to the Tories' £7.20 for over-25s, B&Q have just forced workers to 'sign up or be sacked' to a package that reduces many workers' wages by thousands of pounds, including loss of winter and summer bonuses equating to 6% of annual salary, and removal of double time for working Bank Holidays.
McVities biscuit factory has been handing out 6-day weeks in recent months, on the miserable £6.70 minimum wage, but days before the £7.20 rate came into being, suddenly announced a lack of orders for the next two months and told workers they'd get no work at all - whilst denying they employ these people on zero hours contracts!
The 15% leap last year in the numbers suffering the cruel insecurity of zero hours contracts is a sure recipe for capitalist employers - and cost-cutting public sector employers - to compensate themselves for a piddling pay rise by slashing hours of work, with the added, backbreaking workload on staff that accompanies these cynical steps to reduce the overall wage bill.
Unions Need Action
The unions need to step up to the task of organizing a battle to win their own declared policy of £10-an-hour minimum for all workers - regardless of age - and to defend and enhance premium payments for working unsocial hours, such as weekends, nightshift and public holidays.
Unions in Scotland's local authorities - who employ about 250,000 staff - need to organize appropriate industrial action to stop councils slaughtering these premium payments, and build a campaign to win back the funding off Holyrood and Westminster to defend all jobs, wages and local services.
This whole issue raises the need for power over the minimum wage (and employment law) to be devolved to Holyrood - this side of outright independence - so workers can organise and demand a £10 Scottish minimum wage without any loss of hours, jobs or premium payments. And within the private sector it points up the need for the socialist alternative of democratic public ownership - to remove the dictatorship of capital, where profiteering capitalists hold workers hostage, slashing hours of work, jobs and other conditions in order to boost their profit margins, whilst basking in the kudos of signing up to a marginally higher hourly wage rate.
Join the SSP in campaigning within the unions and on the streets for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all at 16, without loss of hours, jobs, premium payments or working conditions.
Vote for that in the Scottish elections by using your second vote - the regional list vote - for RISE, Scotland's Left Alliance, to elect SSP members and other socialists to boost the battle for a legally enforced living minimum wage of £10-an-hour, without strings.
If you want to read far more extensively into the issues surrounding and underlying poverty, pay and profit - and a vision for an entirely different (socialist) future - buy a copy of my recently published book, Break the Chains.
And for all the stories, statistics and socialist arguments it provides, it's cheap at twice the price! You get 276 pages for less than an hour's wages in the kind of system we want here and now!
Order online at www.scottishsocialistparty.org
Buy, read, enjoy and use it - and let me know what you think.