Equal pay for the under 21s – it’s only fair

by Ian Silvera

Consider the example of two workers: Bill and Ben. Ben receives £59.30 in return for his ten hour shift at the local restaurant. In contrast, Bill receives £49.20 for the same shift at the same restaurant. Now, ask yourself would the £10.10 difference be justified if the workers were members of a different sex? Surely, you would answer “no”. Equally, ask yourself would the £10.10 difference between the workers be justified if the workers were members of a different race? Again, you would answer “no”. You answer no because discrimination is wrong. It contradicts your belief in equality, justice and fairness. So why, today, is pay inequality legally accepted?

When New Labour gained office in 1997, it was on a mandate of fairness and equality. Gone were the 80s, a decade marked for the repulsive worship of money. In 1999, Tony Blair’s government introduced the minimum wage. The £3.60 minimum, rising, eventually, to £5.93 over the years, was hailed as a great success for social justice. The poorest were being brought out of poverty with pride.

But, 12 years later, young people have still not received equality. A worker under 21 years of age does not receive the same wage as the rest of the work force. Young workers lift, clean and work. Their responsibilities are just as great as their colleagues. But the young worker is discriminated against. On what evidence is the young worker denied his full wage? None. It is mere rhetoric from the right, which believes, falsely, that businesses cannot afford to pay young workers their entitled pay, which inhibits social justice.

The right purport three main arguments against equal pay. First, young workers do not have as much experience as their colleagues. As employers get less quality work from their young employees, they are justified in paying them less. Second, that giving young workers equal pay will create inflation. Finally, thousands of small businesses across the country simply cannot afford to pay young workers, who make up the majority of their work force (for example, in public houses) the minimum wage.

Our nation’s fight for equality has not finished. These pitiful arguments, pedalled by the likes of the British retail consortium, are the same conservative scepticism that attempted to prevent the creation of the NHS and the minimum wage. The left must reinvigorate the fight for equality.

Already the left champions the living wage campaign started by Ken Livingstone. The campaign maintains, rightly, that workers in the capital should be paid £7.20 an hour, which reflects the inflated costs of living in London. Unfortunately, issues of intergenerational justice and social mobility are sometimes overlooked by the left. After all, young workers will be 21 some day. However, if these young workers, who want to contribute to society, are not given equal pay, a grave injustice remains in our society.

At 18, young people can vote. Even at the age of ten they can be convicted, like an adult, for murder. We must take into account that everyone – the young, middle aged and old alike – needs at least £14,400 to live an acceptable standard of life, as reported by the Jospeh Rowntree foundation. Providing young people with the minimum wage will help them achieve this.

This is a problem of injustice that only MPs can change. If politically conscious young workers question their right to equal pay, or even protested to their employers, there is a danger they could be replaced. In the recession, this truth is especially poignant. Take, for example, a gastropub near to my home: after advertising for a bar position, the public house was mobbed by hundreds of job applications.

Only the will of the left is stopping the changes needed to deliver equality of pay. This change is urgent. It cannot wait. Every time a young worker is paid less than his colleague, for the same amount of work, we, the left, should feel guilt. We created this inequality when in power, and we do little about it now. We should not be satisfied until we have finished our quest to bring about equality of pay.

Ian Silvera is founder of Game-View.net.


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24 Responses to “Equal pay for the under 21s – it’s only fair”

  1. Tacitus says:

    Of course it is right that young people should be paid equally for the same work as other workers. Unfortunately, for too long the system has been geared to delude the young that they are being paid less for being ‘trained’.

    Never quite worked out how making tea, going to the shops or carrying the heaviest bags was really training, but there you go.

    Apprenticeships and work placements offer the system the opportunity to oppress young people and subjugate them. It must be changed and the unions must start treating their younger members with more respect.

  2. Julian says:

    Consider this. Your restaurant owner has Bill and Ben apply for a job. Ben is 27 and Bill is 17. If the owner is obliged to pay the same, he’s almost certain to choose Ben every time because Ben has experience and is more mature. Ben may have references which Bill will not.

    If youngsters have to be paid the same minimum wage as everyone else, they have nothing to offer which will offset the (perceived) greater risk of taking them on. Not only will they fail to get jobs while they’re young, they will not have the opportunity to build up the experience, good habits and reputation that will make them employable. So, for the sake of supposed “fairness”, they would be denied a job.

    My daughter is at school and has a Saturday job in a restaurant. She is paid less than the minimum wage but lives at home so is happy to do the work for extra pocket money. If the restaurant had to pay minimum wage, they would probably employ someone older.

  3. Darren Canning says:

    It is an incentive to business to employ young and therefore inexperienced workers by making them cheaper. It is a way of incentivising the workplace to provide training and work experience without recourse to the tax system. I wouldn’t say it is perfect but it is fair in as much as it applies to everyone without discrimination and, short of those who do not live past their youth, is equally transitory.

  4. Thank you for your replies.

    I’ve come across the ‘incentive’ argument, Julian and Mr Canning have regurgitated here, before. Considering a lot of people by 27 will be in semi-skilled skilled or professional jobs, I highly doubt that young workers across the country will be replaced by older workers in the retail industry and restaurant business- who rely on young unskilled workers. Furthermore, Mr Canning, just because a worker is older , does not necessarily mean he is more experienced or has higher ability. On these grounds your attempted counter argument is unsound.

    Also Julian’s assumption, by way of personal anecdote, that most young people live at home, so shouldn’t be entitled to full minimum wage, is equally ridiculous. If we started paying people according to where they lived , we would introduce another form of discrimination- judging people’s worth on their residence.

  5. Julian says:

    Ian, if young people mostly work with other young people as you suggest, I can see the argument for paying them the minimum wage. However, I’d be surprised if that was the case. My local restaurants, cafes, shops, supermarkets etc. all seem to employ a range of people, certainly into their 30’s. I know (from admittedly limited and anecdotal evidence) that younger workers are often less reliable than older ones. In any case, what matters is the perception the employer has of younger workers, rather than any objective statistic.

    To your final point, I am not arguing about paying people according to where they live. But let me ask you this. You say “the young, middle aged and old alike – needs at least £14,400 to live an acceptable standard of life”. At what age does someone need £14,400 a year? Ten years old, 14, 17, 20? At younger ages, a larger proportion of people do live at home, most are still at school and 40+% are at uni. It doesn’t seem to me to be unfair if every young person can’t earn enough in 40 hours a week to live an independent life.

    I actually agree with you that age should not normally be a factor in determining wage levels (or anything much else). I thought that when I was young and still think it now, a good many years later. I just think that the statutory minimum, which is a good idea, should apply at an age where the bulk of young people need that amount to live. I don’t think those at the younger end do need it.

    I have another question for you. If it was proved to be the case that the young lost out because of being entitled to the same minimum wage, would you change your view? i.e. Do you think achieving fairness is more important than enabling the young to get jobs?

    To be fair to you, I shall answer the question in the opposite direction. If it was shown that the minimum wage had no effect on young people’s employability, I would probably change my view. But I can imagine many in their 20’s and 30’s, both on the left and the right, thinking it highly unfair that 16 olds got paid the same as them.

  6. Julian, in reply to your question. The burden of proof is on you; you ,after all, are standing in the way of social justice, subsequently the onus is on your to prove equal pay wrong. I’m glad you have acknowledged this point, to some extent, in answering your own question.

    Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity, I’m not as ideologically driven as most, so would not support the equal pay idea if I found it hindered young workers opportunities.

    However,the Employers Forum on age found in 2007 that around 200,000 young people would be better off if they received full minimum wage, where as 2,000 would loose out. I didn’t put this in my article because I felt the study was out of date due to the recession and austerity measures. So on this evidence, it seems you would have change your views about the minimum wage.

    Your arguments, in desperation, are increasingly dangerous. Your ‘they live at home, so it’s not unfair’ argument reminds me of medieval arguments against gender equal pay. Where a chauvinist would argue that, ‘since women stayed at home, they didn’t need equal pay’. Further, it’s laughable that you state ‘I am not arguing about paying people according to where they live’ and have now twice made arguments about paying people according to where they live. Finally, I wonder if you realised that a larger proportion of young workers live at home because they can’t afford to live elsewhere?

    Moreover,your arguments are rife with anecdotal evidence, for all that you have said about young workers unreliability, there will be another story to disprove your prejudiced views.

    Be that as it may,one factor that I have, unfortunately, not mentioned yet is flexibility. Young workers are incredibly flexible compared to their older co-workers as the have less commitments. Young workers often are called up on the day to work or work ,what others would consider, unreasonable times. This advantage of flexibility, should be represented in their pay.

  7. Julian says:

    You call me prejudiced but I’m just trying to get to the bottom of what your argument is based on. You started off saying that the reason for having a minimum wage was that it cost £14,000 for someone to live. I pointed out that at the younger end, it doesn’t cost that much because most (certainly more than 50% of the youngest people) are in education and living at home. The actual cost of living varies a lot between different parts of the country, between town and country, between young and old, between single people and families. You can argue that for a certain proportion, it costs £14,000 and that they should therefore have the minimum wage. For those for whom it doesn’t cost £14,000, you need a different argument.

    So, you now say that the minimum wage should apply to everyone because of “social justice”. That sounds like a circular argument to me because you choose to define social justice as being everyone receiving the minimum wage. You are quite entitled to believe that a minimum wage is a prerequisite for social justice, but you can’t then use social justice as an argument for a minimum wage.

    You say it’s unfair that a 17 and a 21 year old doing an identical job receive different pay. Isn’t it unfair if two workers receive identical pay for doing the same job in the one case very well and in the other case, very poorly? That’s what the minimum wage brings.

    I’m not arguing against the minumum wage here, I’m just saying that the concept of “fairness” is not an objective measure that can decide something one way or the other. The minimum wage is inherently unfair because it can lead to people being paid the same for very different work. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it just means fairness has little to do with it.

    You say have I considered that young people live at home because they can’t afford to live elsewhere? Well, of course. What’s wrong with that? I lived at home until I could afford to live elsewhere? I expect you did. My children will. I can agree with many arguments in general for the minimum wage. I can’t agree that it’s needed in order for 16 year olds to be able to leave home and support themselves independently.

    As a final point, the policy of the last government was to increase the time young people spend in education. For any arguments against how that was done, it has be better if the population is better educated. Paying the minimum wage to young people would pull them away from improving their education and subject them in some cases to family pressures to go out to work. This hardly seems a good idea.

  8. Well, you’re clutching at straw now Julian. I’ve broken my replies down for you, so you don’t get confused again:

    1. You’re prejudiced. Your constant use of anecdotal evidence leads me to believe you have a Thatcherite chip on your shoulder.

    2. If you want to write a letter with your point of view to the Joseph Rowntree foundation about how people don’t need to live off £14.4k for a decent life, feel free. I’m sure they will have a good chuckle at your ‘evidence’. I argued that minimum wage for u21s was a point of equality and social justice, the £14.4k point was not my main argument.

    3. You can find ‘circular argument’ on Wiki, I wish that you’d researched it before posting here. I argue that social justice is a goal- for a good society. By providing u21s with the minimum wage, we are one step closer to this goal. This argument isn’t circular.

    4. Your ‘fairness isn’t objective’ , but we should be convinced that ‘the minimum wage is inherently UNFAIR’ argument is spectacularly flawed… too much blue nun Julian?

    5. You fail to acknowledge that young people doesn’t just mean ’16 year olds’. Since employment laws prevent 16 year olds from working as much as an adult , I don’t expect them to leave home, but what about 20 year olds who want to?

    6. Your final point, that giving young people the minimum wage will incentivise them to leave education and work unskilled jobs, is ludicrous. I don’t think paying someone more will deter them from their educational aspirations. If anything, more pay for less hours, means that they can work less, thus spend more time on homework and the like or respond to conservative skeptics on a popular left wing blog?

  9. Dolly says:

    This is fantastic that someone is paying attention to the young people of society.
    I’m a 19 year old student and have been employed since i was 14, while still being at school full time and was subject to age discrimination in the from of unequal pay. I done more work than that of my older colleagues and was called in to work out with my normal shifts because i didn’t have to take the kids to football practice or go and do the weekly shop on my evenings or weekends. I worked hard because i believed that i would be easily replaced by another young person who would be willing to work for less than i was already being paid. Theres very little in place to protect young people in the workplace even with the new equality act it is still legal to discriminate on the basis of age.
    My new employer pays us all equally irrespective of age but this is sadly not the case with most employers.
    The previous argument stated that young people are poor workers is something which I found almost offensive. Being a poor student is not just a stereotype, it’s a reality for most and i still live at home because i can’t afford to move away.
    Despite all the valid points that have been made i just find it bizarre that society sees it as okay that certain groups in society are paid less than others for the same job. It would not be stood for, and hasn’t in terms of race or gender yet age discrimination is seen as acceptable. I find it very strange and can see that the only reason that the minimum wage has not being extended is because they’ve gotten away with it.

  10. Darren Canning says:

    For the record Mr. Silvera I myself employ staff in the hopsitality industry and can categorically say that the cost of individual member of staff is a key concern when looking to take them on. We employ a range of ages and it is not true that by 27 people ‘move on’ from so called ‘entry level’ jobs. We have not only people who remain in such roles for various reasons but alos a high number of people who return to them. For some it is a question of fitting in work around child care or studies, for others it is work they can do for a few hours to subsidise a pension or another form of employment. These prospective employees bring not only experience of a set role at times but also maturity and life experience. They show more initiative and have a better idea of what is expected within given social situations. This kind of experience is invalubale in the hospitality indiustry. Beyond the question of experience it is also true that when some one is working to pay their bills and not merely for pocket money they are more focused on doing their job at least as well as is required to keep it. Is it the case that any given 14 or 17 year old will compare like this to any 30 or 60 year old? Clearly not. It is however the case that this is the general experience of those involved in hiring staff. This in fact means the burden of proof is with those who wish to change attitudes as I assure you that in the event there was wage parity between a 14 year old and a 25 year old I and my colleagues would not be hiring the 14 year old or indeed a 17 year old who require, by law, more supervision and, by law, are not able to perform all the tasks that a 25 year old could. Under 18’s cost more to employ and are less deployable.

  11. Andy says:

    This Post is amazing!
    Ian you are awesome, any time you fancy running for PM i will vote for you 😉

    I am 20, i own a house so i pay a mortgage, i have a 9 week old little girl plus everything else that goes with life… but yet i get payed less than everyone else doing the same job and the same shift. No one else other than the manager in my department owns a house and has to pay the mortgage and all the bills that come with it, or has a little baby to look after. so all you people saying it paying under 21’s less because we live at home is utter crap. on the same note i do not expect to get payed more than everyone else because of all this! all i am asking for is the same pay as everyone else in my department.

    Ian i agree with every single word you have wrote. you are a legend.

  12. Jamie Hopkins says:

    Ian I respect everything you have written in your argument and entirely agree with Andy; I would definitely vote for you!

    Julian and Darren, although I can understand some of the reasoning behind your particular arguments, in my opinion they are flawed. The fact that you are classing an under 18 worker (child) equivalent to an 18-21 year old, young adult worker is preposterous.

    I am in a similar situation to Dolly in that I am a 20 year old student who does a full time 30 hour a week course and in the holidays have to work full time on a less than fair wage (£4.98 p/h) to pay for everything a 30 year old worker would have to (barring children but then again isn’t that a life preference?).

    I fully agree that any worker under the age of 18 should not be entitled to the same wage as a full time adult but there is a clear mistake in the opinions of people that say young adults work poorer at the menial jobs that this argument concerns. I mean do you really need that much experience to use a vacuum cleaner or wash some toilets? Not at all! So why then does the pay difference still apply?

    I fully agree that jobs that require specific skill sets should have wages that relate to the skill of the worker but the age-experience argument is in no way a significant one in the context of minimum wage jobs!

    18-21 year olds have to work ten times harder as the older staff to be deemed as doing their job to an equivalent standard, all the time being payed less than the older colleagues. Employers have it in their head that the young staff are good for nothing and therefore treat them horribly and scrutinise everything they do.

    I think its wrong and is something that definitely needs looking at!

  13. Julian says:

    Jamie, you seem to be agreeing with my argument, which is that in principle there should be a lower limit to the minimum wage. You’d set it at 20 or 18 perhaps, I’d set it somewhat higher.

    I absolutely agree with you that people should be paid for the job they do and how well they do it, not according to their age. However, not all employers are as fair or rational as that. A lower minimum wage at the younger end encourages employers to give jobs to younger people. If the adult minimum wage applied at 18, I’m sure some 18 year olds would get paid that. However, I think others would find themselves without work, as employers would tend to go for older staff with more experience. I’m not saying that’s right, it’s just what would happen in practice.

  14. Julian says:

    You may also want to consider that Spain, with overall unemployment at 24.4%, has unemployment among young people of over 50% (http://theconversation.edu.au/spain-faces-brain-drain-as-its-youth-looks-for-a-future-abroad-8241).

    It also has (since 1968) a single minimum wage that applies at any age, even below 18 (Google translated – http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.empleo.gob.es%2Fes%2Finformacion%2Fsmi%2Fcontenidos%2Fimporcualact.htm).

  15. Julian says:

    That should have been since 1998, not 1968. Sorry

  16. paul wenman says:

    This is late, but even more relevant here in 2014. I can not believe the arguments made against Ian’s views, which I agree with totally. We live in a supposedly free society, free of discrimination, free of government dictats and social dogma. A job done equally well by two people should be aid equally, regardless of age, colour, religion, sex, or age. The state has no right to decide that certain groups need ‘help’ up the ladder by allowing employers to pay the less, no right to decide that younger people are less experienced and therefore less value, no right to decide that most young people live at home free of charge or are studying without having to pay for it (fees, accommodation, field trips, laptops, etc). This is Stalinist. We protect older people from ageist discrimination, why not younger? EVen if younger people are less experienced, they are often more energetic and more flexible. If someone at 30 is competing for a manual labour job with a 17 yr old, I would suggest that the 17 year old would be a better bet regardless of lower pay – more ambitious, less stuck in their ways – how can a 30 year old not have moved up the ladder? There are endless arguments, but basically it should not be up to the state to decide that someone must wait till 21 until to get paid fully for a good job done. It is plain discrimination however yo like to wrap it up.

  17. paul wenman says:

    Julian, so Spain is in economic trouble because it has a minimum wage extending across all ages? OK, so that’s the answer …. tell all the economists. Why not also point out that they eat late, play great football and border the Mediterranean? Because none of these has anything to do with Spain’s economic woes….. they have a bloated property market and have over borrowed and invested badly from European funds.

    You agree that ‘ people should be paid for the job they do and how well they do it, not according to their age.’ So let not the government either: use age as a proxy for how well someone does a job; or make unilateral judgements on how to protect 18-21 yr old workers from poor judgement of employers. Rather than reducing the minimum wage for 18-21 yr olds, how about letting the market to reward supposedly more experienced employees with higher wages.

  18. gary says:

    this is all absolutely bolocks everyone needs 15000 from birth regardless of anything else howver the first 10 years the 15000 should be invested for when he turn 10 give access to all that fact that school children dont get paid is disgusting

  19. charlotte says:

    I am 20 years old and have been promoted to supervisor at the age of 19 due to my hard work, determination and loyalty to the company I work for. My promotional pay has increased to £6.20 per hour from my original minimum wage of £5.35. Lucky me right?
    Wrong!!!!!!
    I have bills to pay, i have rent, I have a car, all the financial responsibilities of any ‘adult’ over the age of 21. However putting my personal worries to one side…… I have the responsibility to manage and support a team but get paid less than the majority of staff I am accountable for. It is inappropriate for a Supervisor/Duty Manager with more than a year’s experience to train new and inexperienced staff but get a lower rate of pay. I have a higher degree of responsibility which my pay does not reflect simply on the grounds of being under the age of 21. I work a hard 5 to 6 day week, taking on the role of Duty Manager but getting paid less than the people I am responsible for.
    How is this legal? This is discrimination!
    How is this justifiable in anyway?

  20. Gav says:

    Charlotte- How is this legal? This is discrimination! I totally agree.

    If you earn enough you have to pay tax in full. You don’t get a discount for your age so get paid in full.

    I’m thinking of writing to my MP and ask them why they think it’s a good bill. Anecdotal evidence I know, but I worked of a day in a fast food outlet (through an employment agency) and was paid more than my 17 year old supervisor. I just can think why that is right or even legal. Perhaps some civil-rights solicitor should look into it or even a student civil rights lawyer they could be paid even less under current conditions.

  21. Jade says:

    I totally agree that under 21’s should get equal pay. I’m 16 and I get little more than £4 an hour (it’s still more than minimum wage but still not really acceptable). I am still in full-time education but work 3 shifts a week normally, but more in half terms and holidays. I have had two jobs since the age of 15 including the job I have now, so tell me this- A 16 year old who has had experience in the work place before and a 22 year old who has never had a job before in his life and has the same qualifications as the 16 year old; they both do the same job and the same amount of hours. How on earth is it fair that the 16 year old gets on average nearly £3 less per hour? My pay check is an embarrassment to how much work I do. This is a form of discrimination! And before people say “But you live at home and your parents must pay for everything for you.” WRONG! Other than the house my mum lets me live in and the food they give me, I pay for everything else. I need a new school bag; I pay. I want a new pair of jeans; I pay. The price of things doesn’t change just because I’m 16. Also something else I have noticed is that the 17 year olds at my work get paid more than me, by like 20p but still how is that fair?

  22. Sarah says:

    I would just like to contribute as an individual who is under 21. I get paid £1.20 less than my colleagues who are a year older than me. This has nothing to do with experience as I have worked in retail for almost 4 years, from the age of 16. Some of those on higher wages have been in retail for a few months. A large company like the one I work for should afford to pay me more but unfortunately the system doesn’t work. I would also like to point out i’ve seen how managers select staff to interview and they never look at age and consider it would be cheaper to hire younger. Thats not how it works.

  23. abbie says:

    I am 17 years old and will be 18 in august. Currently I am still in full time education and I have a part time job as a waitress. I have an 8 hour contract but I work on average 20 hours a week, sometimes more. I get paid £4.92 and hour and my 22 year old colleague makes £6.70 an hour for the exact same job. I find it totally unacceptable that I should be paid less for the exact same job. my boss will ask me to cover a shift before anyone else because I am basically ‘cheap labour’ to him.

  24. Gareth says:

    How am I supposed to pay for driving lessons then buy a car, pay rent, buy food and drink, save to buy a house ect on 6k a year I work just as hard as any other employee in my place of work and deserve equal pay

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