TUC comments on minimum wage survey
September 22 2006 - Commenting on the British Retail Consortium
national minimum wage survey, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, said:
"Every time they are asked, members of the British Retail Consortium predict that an increase in the minimum wage will cause massive job losses and every time they are proven wrong. The Low Pay Commission should ignore the inaccurate misfortune telling of employer surveys and focus on the facts.
"Official figures show that although retail employment dipped slightly this year as consumers cut back on spending to clear debts, over the last two years 23 000 new jobs were created in retail. And in terms of setting a future minimum wage the latest figures show a healthy growth in sales."
The TUC argues that it is wrong to blame recent problems in the retail sector on the minimum wage. The sharp downturn in retail during the last year has been largely due to a pause in spending while consumers paid credit card bills. In the five years preceding the downturn the value of retail sales had increased by 6 per cent per year while average earnings had only increased by 4.4 per cent. Retail sales could not keep outstripping annual earnings forever.
The TUC claims that the survey overstates the reduction in total employment in the sector. The Office of National Statistics Labour Force Survey suggests that there was a fall of 20 000 retail sector jobs in the year to spring 2006, which amounts to a reduction of 0.8 per cent of the workforce. However, the TUC note that there had been a 43 000 increase in the sector during the previous year.
The TUC argues that what really matters is what happens to the sector in the coming period. If retail sales grow, employment will start to increase again. The ONS website reports that prospects are quite good:
"Underlying growth in retail sales slowed slightly in August, but remains robust when compared with the average in recent years, despite decreased sales in August by retailers of food and drink. The volume of retail sales in the three months June to August was 1.5 per cent higher than in the previous three months. This follows 1.9 per cent growth in the three months to July and compares with an increase of 0.8 per cent at the same time in 2005. The average three-monthly growth rate over the last five years is 1.0 per cent."