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By Peter Hoskin
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One
of the most intriguing political stories in today’s papers is tucked
away on page 19 of the Guardian
. Apparently, the Government is going to do
more to “name and shame” those employers who do not pay the minimum wage.
According to Jo Swinson, who announced the measure yesterday, “this gives a
clear warning to rogue employers who ignore the rules that they will face
reputational consequences as well as a fine if they don't pay the minimum wage.”

Why
so intriguing? Because it goes against the grain of what other ministers have
been saying, and doing, about the minimum wage. As I reported back in
April
, the Government has changed the remit of the Commission that sets the
level of the wage, so that it does so “without damaging employment or the
economy” – a directive that raises the possibility of future freezes or cuts.
And, as I revealed in
March last year
, ideas such as regionalising the minimum wage, or even
suspending it for young people, have been floating around Downing Street since
2010. None of this may be incompatible with tougher policing of companies, but
there’s certainly a friction between the policies.


Indeed,
the minimum wage could become another sore area between the Tories and the Lib
Dems. It’s telling that Jo Swinson was the minister to announce yesterday’s
policy, whereas it’s generally Tories who argue that the minimum wage could
cost jobs. Another report in today’s papers – this one in the Financial
Times
– suggests that the Lib Dems are planning to focus on living costs during
both their forthcoming party conference and the election campaign. One of the proposals
they are mooting is a compulsory living wage for government workers. I wouldn’t
be surprised if they started pushing for a higher minimum wage, too.

Or
perhaps the Tory leadership will try to avoid this battle – and for two
particular reasons. For starters, it’s harder to get people concerned about the
possible impact on jobs when the economy is growing and jobs are being created.
And, for seconds, there is now also pressure from within the Tory party – e.g.
David Skelton, writing in
the Times (£)
yesterday – for the minimum wage to be increased. All are
conscious of what effect, presentational and electoral, a policy such as
regionalising the minimum wage could have at a time of squeezed living.

In
any case, it’s worth keeping an eye on all this. And remember, as soon as Ed
Miliband starts sermonising on the matter: Labour may have introduced the minimum
wage, but even
Gordon Brown
was open to debate about it.

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