In 1998, the year Britain set its first minimum wage, I got my first Saturday job taking telephone orders at our local Pizza Hut. I went on to earn the new under-21 rate of £3 per hour the following year when the law was introduced.
I got thinking about my entry into the workforce this week when reading an article on the National Living Wage in The Economist.
Now is the worst time for a drastic rise, the article says, as technological advances are enabling firms to replace more people with computers. It uses an analogy of burger-flipping machines to make the point that low-skilled positions are those most at risk. I can identify with this, as my Pizza Hut role has largely been replaced by a slick online system serving its 650 branches.
In this week’s news analysis, however, Kent retailer David Charman makes a strong case for why retailers should seek high-skilled managers of the future rather than low-skilled burger-flippers.
Doing this means his 24-hour store runs efficiently when he’s not there and any of his well-trained staff can step in if the bakery manager, for example, is sick. For this, he pays a living wage and tells them it’s because he wants to and not because he has to.
The size of increase being discussed and the speed of implementation puts retailers in a difficult position
The size of increase being discussed and the speed of implementation puts retailers in a difficult position and 79% of retailers told RN this week that they will let staff go to pay the National Living Wage.
One thing we can be sure of, though, is that we know relatively little about the effects of a small rise to the minimum wage and nothing about the effects of a big rise. To assume a big rise would be harmless because small increases have seemed so would be reckless.