This summer has been an experience for me; one invaluable and insightful, yet at the same time one that has left me with a deep sense of injustice and a frustration. Three years deep into my degree and drowning in my overdraft, I quit the temp agencies and found a summer job. The work was low-grade and required few qualifications, but I entered it boasting three years’ experience in a near identical position, plus an additional two years working as a temp in similar roles.
Imagine then my surprise when it emerged I was earning less than my colleagues. Not just than the permanent staff; other temps with far less experience were getting paid more than me. It’s an all too familiar story, and even now, decades after it was outlawed, firms get regularly taken to court for paying their female, disabled or LGBT staff less than others doing the same job. But mine was not one of these cases; on the contrary, my employer’s right to pay me less for identical work was enshrined in UK law, and it’s all because of my age.
Living independently and renting a house, paying bills and studying for a degree, I incur all the same life costs as I will in seven months time, when I turn twenty-two. I enjoy all the same rights and responsibilities as I will next March, and I could, were I so inclined, be married or have children to support. This doesn’t just apply to people of my age; it could be anyone over the age of sixteen.
So why is my employer allowed to get away with paying me less? At present there are three different minimum wage brackets, and the temps I work with, all with the same job, span them all. My supervisor, three years my junior and with more job responsibilities than me, is paid less. A girl who has since left, with no previous work experience but one year of life more on me, earned nearly a pound an hour more than me; another, saving for University and trying to fund her way through college aged 17, over a pound an hour less. All of us working there were students at some level or another, trying to make ends meet; thus dismissing the argument that a lower wage encourages people to stay in education longer. If anything, it makes it harder.
Age discrimination is a hot topic at the moment, but most of the media focus on the top end, with the elderly being retired or sidelined early. When will we look to the young people, who work long hours in often dull unrewarding jobs, often to fun education or to support a family, yet are paid less?
Equal pay must be given for equal work. Many Labour Party members will hail the minimum wage as the party’s proudest achievement, but while I am without the £162.84 I missed out on this summer, I cannot celebrate it. The developent rate is nothing short of an age tax, levvied on some of the poorest, lowest earners in our society. Let’s do the Labour thing and scrap it.