Nearly a quarter of those on the minimum wage - 439,000 people - were paid less than their legal entitlement in April 2018, according to the Low Pay Commission (LPC). In reality, the numbers underpaid are much higher but were not counted “due to the limitations of the underlying survey data”. So whilst the rich get richer and richer, workers at the bottom are squeezed harder and harder.
The LPC highlight how the data signals a “clear pattern of underpayment increasing since 2016, when the government set a target of raising the wage floor to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020”. Furthermore, approximately 135,000 people were paid less than the 2016 National Living Wage of £7.20, despite its increases since then. Whilst living a life of luxury, the bosses will use all sorts of tricks or pressure to avoid paying even the bare minimum standard of existence to their workers.
Women, the young and the elderly are the most likely to be underpaid. Childcare, a job overwhelmingly carried out by women, has the highest proportion of underpaid workers. Close behind are those in hospitality, retail and cleaning.
To underline the severity of their report, the LPC’s data does not cover the more extreme cases of the ‘informal economy’. For example, in the ‘informal’ building trade, many workers are expected to line up outside builders’ merchants and outbid each other for work that day. Out of desperation, workers in some cases have even accepted as little as a hamburger and chips as payment. This is a return to Victorian conditions, before the growth of the trade union movement.
Make the bosses pay!
The lesson for the labour movement is that legislation alone is not enough to secure gains for workers. Legal protections and guarantees must be backed up with militant action by the trade unions. Otherwise these rights are simply scraps of paper, to be ignored by the bosses as they please.
The unions must make an urgent effort to organise those in the most exploited sectors, to put an end to this outrage.
These findings about the underpayment of the minimum wage come against a backdrop of rising inequality in the UK, as the bosses tighten the screws. This is nothing more than the logic of capitalism, as the bosses pass the burden of their crisis onto everyone else.
It is welcome news that Corbyn has promised that a Labour government will raise the National Living Wage and abolish the lower rates for workers under 25. But more must be done.
Big businesses should be forced to open up their books to workers. Those who have failed to implement the living wage should be nationalised, and placed under democratic workers’ control. These demands, however, will be met with the resistance of the bosses. A mass movement is therefore necessary: for the many, by the many.
Only a Labour government in power with socialist policies can reverse these these trends and see to it that our class - including half-a-million underpaid workers - can break free from the asphyxiation of capitalism.