The national minimum wage band for younger workers constitutes age discrimination and must be brought into line with the adult rate, a leading lobby group has warned.
Last week, the Government announced a 3.2% increase in the adult rate, from £5.35 to £5.52 per hour, with effect from October. But staff in the 18- to 21-year-old bracket will only be paid a minimum rate of £4.60 per hour.
Sam Mercer, director at the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), said this sent out "completely the wrong message" to employers about the consequence of making decisions based on age in the workplace.
"We are frustrated by the refusal to address the fact that under the current bands, 18- to 21-year-olds are paid less, simply because of their age and irrespective of their capabilities or responsibilities," she said.
The EFA call for action follows a warning from lawyers that the national minimum wage flouts the new age laws and that apprenticeships specifically targeted at younger people would eventually be proved illegal.
Age discrimination in employment became illegal on 1 October 2006. The EFA is lobbying the Government on the issue of minimum wage age bands. An Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament and now has 88 signatures representing cross-party support.
"The current argument from the government that employers might potentially avoid taking on younger workers if they had to pay them the same amount as workers over 21 is simply reinforcing the discriminatory practices that the legislation was designed to eradicate," Mercer said.
By Mike Berry
This story first appeared on CatererSearch sister website PersonnelToday.com