By Jacqueline Clavey
The £3.60 minimum wage proposed by the Low Pay Commission last week has been billed a "poverty wage" by catering unions.
"Three pounds sixty for an hour of anyone's life at the end of the 20th century in one of the richest countries on earth is not something to be proud of," said Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of Unison, whose members include school meals staff.
While the unions welcomed the introduction of a statutory framework for minimum earnings, the proposed figure is well below the £4.41-£4.61 they had been pressing for.
Dave Turnbull, regional organiser at the TGWU, said the figure was too low to benefit most catering staff. "Where we negotiate directly with employers we have no agreements below £4 an hour in the London area," he said, vowing that the union would continue to fight for a minimum wage of more than £4.
Turnbull claimed some employers had already changed the way they pay out tips to get round the £3.60 figure.
The British Hospitality Association (BHA) described the proposal as "realistic", although it regretted the lack of any regional variations. "We are concerned about the impact in the regions, although our surveys show that the majority of members pay their staff above £3.60 per hour," said BHA chief executive Jeremy Logie.
The BHA also described as "sensible" the proposal to set a reduced minimum of £3.20 for workers aged 18-21, and to exempt those under 18 years.