Age discrimination laws 'incompatible' with minimum wage

29-09-2006

The UK's current minimum wage system risks falling foul of new age discrimination laws that come into force this weekend, a business group has warned.

From October 1st, age discrimination will be outlawed in the workplace, meaning vacancies can no longer be advertised as junior or senior, for example.

Expressing concern ahead of the introduction of the legislation, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned that the current minimum wage system, under which employers can pay workers under the age of 21 less than older staff, could be considered discriminatory under the new rules.

"The government's own minimum wage law discriminates against people on the grounds of age," BCC spokesman Olly Scott told the BBC.

"If this were the subject of a legal challenge, based on the new age law, the government may put the minimum wage rates of the under 21s up to the same level as the over 21s," he added.

The BCC claims that such a move would lead to job losses and make employers less likely to hire younger workers.

The concerns expressed by the organisation follow recent claims made by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) that 78,000 retail jobs were lost last year as a result of statutory increases in the minimum wage, which is due to increase to £5.35 as part of a further change to employment laws coming into force on October 1st.

But unions have hit back at claims of a £1.2 billion increase to retailers' wage bills as a result of last year's four per cent rise in the level of the minimum wage, with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) insisting that 23,000 new jobs have been created within the retail sector over the past two years.

Meanwhile, unions and charities have expressed concern that workers over the statutory retirement age of 65 still risk being subject to discrimination in the work place because new age discrimination laws do not apply to them.

Yesterday, the high court agreed to hear a case brought by the Heyday charity, which claims that forcing people to leave work on the grounds of their age contravenes European employment law.


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