North: Young workers demand equal pay – Scrap the youth exemptions!

By Paddy Meehan

Young workers are faced with discrimination and exploitation. In October the minimum wage is set to increase by roughly 3% across the age spectrum. With inflation running at 4.3% (according to the Retail Price Index) this is in effect a pay cut.

The minimum wage legislation discriminates against young workers as it allows companies to pay them less for the same work. This is naked exploitation which must be opposed.

The right to training and education for young people has also been hijacked by business to make young people more “employable”, or, in other words, more exploitable. Further Education and vocational courses are to be more closely linked to the needs of local business. In Northern Ireland there are over 12,000 young people in training courses that are exempt from even the poverty level of the minimum wage rates. Apprentices can earn as little as £40 a week!

Tesco is the largest private employer in Northern Ireland. It hires predominantly young workers because it knows it can keep wage costs down by paying them less. Workers in these jobs have little or no job security. You need only look at recent examples of call centre closures at NTL and British Airways to see how little regard these companies have for their workers.

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) has consistently come out against rises in the minimum wage calling them “unrealistic.” What is unrealistic is bosses who earn millions more than this pitiful allowance, preaching that it is too high!

The well-paid politicians in the Assembly will wash their hands of this problem. But a campaign by young workers to put pressure on the government and employers to scrap the youth exemption to the minimum wage can get results.

Young workers, along with workers of all ages, face massive attacks on their rights. When young workers in France and Germany faced similar attacks they organised and demonstrated against them. The CPE law in France which allowed young workers to be fired for no reason within two years of employment was completely scrapped after millions of people took to the streets to oppose it. When young workers here move into struggle against this unjust exploitation and for equal rights they can win too.

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