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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK

Top marks for homework

As politicians and the business community wrangle over the rights and wrongs of a national minimum wage, BBC News Online hears what those on the frontline - the low-paid workers - have to say about the proposed changes to their income.

Minimum wage
As one of the country's 1.5m homeworkers, Ron Rodgers should benefit the most from the setting of a national minimum wage.

Homeworkers - as the name suggest - are people who take in materials from companies and make-up their products from home.

Small returns

The type of goods varies widely from clothes, jewellery to electrical goods. Mr Rodgers assembles electrical components for a local lighting company in Milton Keynes in the comfort of his front-room.

To many an office worker, his conditions would seem ideal. But as Ron will tell you, being a homeworker is no picnic.

"We are paid by the item not according to how long we work. If we work fast the pay goes up, if we slow down so does the money," he says.

[ image: Clothes are just some of the goods made by homeworkers]
Clothes are just some of the goods made by homeworkers
This is known as piece work. Depending on the complexity of the work, Ron makes between 5p and 13p per assembled electrical part.

Overall this adds up to about 1.50 per hour - peanuts by most people's standards.

And given that the most homeworkers do as skilled job as those working in the employer's factory, it is unfair too.

"The minimum wage is long overdue where homeworkers are concerned," says Ron. "It is only right that employers will have to pay us at least double what they do now."

"For too long, they been able to take advantage of the vulnerability of the homeworking force which is in the main made up of single mothers or the elderly,"

Skilled discipline

Ron has worked at home for the past nine years. He took it up to supplement his pension. But it has not been easy.

"You have to be disciplined and patient to meet your quota of work. You have to be prepared to sit for hours without a break. Few factory staff could put up with that," he says.

In the last few years he has cut down his workload from nine hours, five days a week to three days.

He earns about 40 a week but pays his own transport costs to the factory for collection of parts and delivery of finished goods.

Nonetheless he believes that the level for the minimum wage is about right.

"You can't be greedy about these things," he explains. "We all know how competitive industry is and that only an affordable minimum wage should be set - I think 3.60 is about right in this respect."

[ image: Ron will ask for equal pay to factory workers]
Ron will ask for equal pay to factory workers
In the past, Ron has tried to negotiate with his employer over the amount he was being paid - with varying degrees of success.

But where the minimum wage is concerned, he says he has not wanted to rock the boat too soon. The factory has not raised the subject either.

The Low Pay Commission says that the onus should be on the employer to ensure that workers get the minimum wage.

Ron will do his best to make sure that his pay is calculated by the hour rather than by the piece on his next visit to the factory after 1 April.

But he has doubts about the rest of his homeworking colleagues doing the same.

"The majority of homeworkers are not really very proactive and might find themselves losing out," he says.

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In this section

Minimum wage in the UK

Wage winners and losers

Impact on jobs

Q & A: Making sense of the minimum wage

Policing the employers

Making motherhood pay

The international approach

Just a beginning

Challenge for the future

'Victory for small business'

Stranglehold on prosperity

High hopes for fair pay

Small profit in cleaning up

Will the sweatshops pay?