Low-paid workers in Northern Ireland to benefit as minimum wages increase

Low-paid workers will get an increase in their wages from today

UP to 40,000 low-paid workers in Northern Ireland will be waking up today to a pay rise - that's if they're waking up to a job in the current coronavirus climate.

The statutory rate for over-25s - the national living wage - will go up from £8.21 an hour to £8.72, while the national minimum wage rises from £7.70 to £8.20 for 21- to 24-year-olds, from £6.15 to £6.45 for 18- to 20-year-olds and from £4.35 to £4.55 for under-18s. The hourly rate for apprentices will increase from £3.90 to £4.15.

But the new rates are still lower than the voluntary real living wage of £10.75 an hour in London and £9.30 outside the British capital.

The increases come at a time when thousands of workers have either been permanently laid off or have been furloughed as their businesses have gone into cold storage.

And it follows the publication of a report from business advisers EY Ireland, produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, predicts that the Northern Ireland economy could contract by anything between 6.7 per cent and 10 per cent this year, leading to al most certain recession, if not a depression.

It forecast that in a ‘base case’ scenario up to 175,000 people will lose job or be furloughed before a bounce back period later in the year.

But it the disruption is prolonged, there would be a higher level of economic damage, with 132,000 people losing their jobs and another 125,000 being temporarily laid off.

Unions have welcomed the latest increases in the rates, saying the UK is indebted to "minimum wage heroes".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Many of these workers - including care and supermarket staff - are currently on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus. They deserve every penny of this increase, and more.

"The best way to show our respect is to get the minimum wage up to a real living wage as soon as possible.

"Millions of low-paid workers are struggling to make ends meet. That's not right during a pandemic, or at any time."

A government spokesman said: "It is right that workers are fairly rewarded and should not lose out during this time of disruption. Therefore, we will continue with our proposed increases to the national living wage and the national minimum wage in April.

"However, we recognise that this will mean extra costs for some businesses. The Chancellor has announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to help firms continue to keep people in employment."

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Today's pay rise will make a real difference to over a million low-paid workers across the country.

"Many care staff are on the minimum wage. They're looking after the elderly and vulnerable in the most challenging of circumstances and deserve every penny.

"All employers must ensure their staff get the legal increase."

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