October 2, 2006

Minimum wage increases as age discrimination threat looms

by Brian Turner

Employment

On Sunday the minimum wage was increased – while at the same time legislation came into force making it illegal to discriminate against workers according to age.

This sets up a serious problem because the minimum wage discriminates by age group – bringing it potentially into conflict with age discrimination legislation.

At present the minimum wage is awarded as follows:

    Age: 16-17, Wage: £3.30
    Age: 18-20, Wage: £4.45
    Age: 21+, Wage: £5.35

The rules against age discromination affect recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy, retirement, and pension provision – and especially pay.

One fear is that the new legislation will simply burden small business with extra costs. For example, health and insurance benefits must apply to age 65 which may result in higher premiums.

However, it is the potential conflict with the existing minimum wage that is most likely to cause controversy – and have employment lawyers wringing their hands.

Overall, it remains likely that the minimum wage’s natural discrimination according to age group will conflict with the new ageism legislation. While the UK government must surely have attempted to address it, ultimately the decisions on discrimination will rest with the EU, not UK, law courts.

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