Britain’s biggest public sector union has called for a "substantial increase" in the minimum wage by next autumn, ahead of an increase to a living wage of £8 per hour.
Unison has added its voice to calls for a change in the rate in their submission to the Low Pay Commission, which reviews the minimum wage every year.
From the beginning of October 2011, the minimum wage will increase by 2.5 per cent, rising from £5.93 to £6.08 – less than the current rate of inflation.
Yet campaigners, such as London Citizens, have called on companies to pay a living wage of £8.30 per hour in London and £7.20 per hour outside the capital.
According to Unison’s Dave Prentis, as inflation goes up so should the minimum wage. He said:
“A small rise would be outstripped by the rising cost of essentials like food, fuel and transport. That is why Unison is calling for a substantial increase and a move towards a more realistic living wage of £8 an hour.”
That the low-paid should not suffer because of the economic slowdown, said Prentis, adding:
“We desperately need an increase in the minimum wage to restore the balance of fairness and to help to stimulate growth across the economy.”
The living wage, which has been taken on by several companies, including KPMG and Barclays, is supported by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who last week took part in a video that lent support to the idea.
However, a Labour source said that the timing of the video and Unison’s call for a living wage were a “coincidence”.
Overtures towards an increase in low-end wages have not been universally welcomed. Andrew Cave, a spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses, told the Huffington Post UK that it was “not the right time” to raise the minimum wage.
"The FSB has always been supportive of the national minimum wage," he said. "However, with businesses not confident about taking on staff we feel that the time is not right to raise the level. The Government must do more to help businesses take on staff and cut the high level of unemployment.
"Through extending the national insurance holiday to all firms with less than four members of staff, that take on an additional three, more small businesses would have the confidence to employ."