National minimum wage ripe for challenge in court for age discrimination

The age discrimination laws could seriously endanger the national minimum wage system, a business group has warned.

The British Chamber of Commerce said that employers could be challenged under the new age legislation, which comes in to force on Sunday.

The national minimum wage, which differentiates between pay on the basis of age, is also due to rise on 1 October. The national minimum wage will increase from £5.05 to £5.35 per hour for employees over the age of 21, from £4.25 to £4.45 an hour for 18-21 year olds and to £3.30 an hour for 16 and 17-year-old workers.

A British Chamber of Commerce spokesman told BBC News that the government was in a mess over the age regulations:

“The government’s own minimum wage law discriminates against people on the grounds of age,” he said.

“They are in a pickle. If this were the subject of a legal challenge, based on the new age law, the government may put the minimum wage rates of the under-21s up to the same level as the over-21s.”

The Age and Employment Network, a charity dedicated to improving the employment prospects of older workers, also said a legal challenge to minimum wage rules could be likely.

“I am sure it [minimum wage law] could be challenged,” said Patrick Grattan, The Age and Employment Network chief executive.

“It could be considered unfair to pay someone a different wage based on their age rather than someone being more competent it is the assumption that they are open to pay more.”

But Grattan said the government may be able to defend the national minimum wage system.

“The government may be able to defend the law on the grounds that the different rates of minimum wage for under-21s are in place to encourage more younger people to stay on in education rather than find a job,” he said.

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