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Wages Councils

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has received representations about the level of awards that may be decided by the wages councils.

Representations about wages councils proposals are usually made direct to the wages councils, which must consider them before confirming or amending proposals. I have recently received a number of letters from hon. Members and employers about proposals issued by the retail councils.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the problems that the wages councils are creating for the retail industry and the distributive trades generally? Does he agree that it is possible for people to price themselves out of work and that the wages councils are effectively doing that now?

I have received a deputation from the British Multiple Retailers Association, whose representatives forcefully made the same point as my hon. Friend has made. I take fully the point that wages councils are capable of pricing youngsters and adult workers out of jobs, and I have made the point to them in written submissions.

Does the Minister agree that there is some confusion both in his mind and in that of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey)? Surely the job of the wages councils is to evaluate what a job is worth in a certain area, not to assess whether the businesses in that area are being run properly.

The wages councils have a statutory and independent role and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, they incorporate representatives of both the trade unions and the employers. A neutral third party also acts as arbitrator. They consider all those factors, but it is fair and reasonable for many people who are affected by their decisions to make representations on the proposals. Representations and submissions are coming thicker and faster in protest at recent proposals than we have known for many years.

Will the Minister not fall into the trap of assuming that wages councils protect only employees? They can protect employers as well inasmuch as they ensure that employers are required to pay a fair wage for a job and thereby compete with each other on fair terms. The Minister should keep sight of that point when considering wages councils.

Employers have as much opportunity as employees in the wages councils for evaluating, in discussion under neutral chairmanship, where their real interests lie. I hope that I have not fallen into any trap in suggesting that invariably one side or the other is led astray or fails to get a fair deal out of the council's fund. Those concerned are human and fallible. For this reason, it is necessary for a council to circulate widely the proposals that it is thinking of incorporating and finally enacting. It is in the context of these proposals that we have recently received a large volume of protest.