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1999: Britain gets first minimum wage
A legally-binding minimum rate of pay has been introduced in Britain for the first time.

From today all adults must be paid at least 3.60 an hour and workers under the age of 22 must get no less than 3 an hour.

A government body has been set up to ensure employers comply with the new wage levels.

Firms face a fine of up to 5,000 for each worker who is paid below the statutory minimum.

The change is expected to benefit about two million people - more than half of them in the service sector.

Their wage packets will be boosted by up to a third.

Over the past few years debate about a minimum wage has been one of the issues which has most sharply divided the Labour and Conservative parties.

The governing Labour party has said it is a key step in combating poverty and will have little or no effect on employment, despite the higher wage bill.

It will be a real plus for two million people
Ian McCartney
Trade and Industry Minister
The opposition Conservatives maintain it will add to business costs and lead to job losses.

The Trade and Industry minister Ian McCartney said the law was a "massive step forward" for the low-paid.

"It will be a real plus for two million people. Another plus is that so many employers support it," Mr McCartney said.

But some trades unions are still unhappy with the new rate.

A motion tabled for the annual conference of Unison, the public service union, said it would "perpetuate poverty".

The union tabled a proposal that the rate should be increased to 5 - half the hourly rate of the average male worker.

It also wants the separate rate for under 22s to be scrapped.

The union's general secretary, Rodney Bickerstaffe, said his organisation would be pressing ahead with a "Living Wage" protest rally in Newcastle on 10 April.

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Factory workers
Part-time women workers are among the lowest-paid

Focus on the impact of the minimum wage

In Context
In February 2000 a report by pay specialists Income Data Services said the introduction of the minimum wage had not caused job losses or upset industry pay structures.

In 2002 the minimum wage reached 4.10 an hour for adults and 3.50 for those under 22.

However, in September of that year a government study found some employers were still not paying minimum wage rates.

It said nationally workers had been under-paid the equivalent of 10m since April 1999.

Trade unions have consistently pushed for a bigger annual rise in the minimum wage and a rate of at least 5 per hour for all workers.

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