David King (Health and Safety Executive) said six million people earn less than they need to survive and have to rely on in-work benefits.
He said the Living Wage Foundation had calculated that a real living wage should be £9.40 in Greater London and £8.25 elsewhere.
He also highlighted the differential between 25 year old workers and younger workers on the additional national minimum wage. He warned that 25-year-olds could find it difficult to find work as the worst employers look to employ younger workers on lower rates.
Organisations including Nationwide building society, IKEA and EDF had adopted the real living wage and the government should do the same, he added.
Heather Philips, speaking for the executive, said age should not matter if you are competent and fully-trained.
She quoted an extract from Hansard, from 100 years ago, when Winston Churchill said: “It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty's subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions.”
Churchill’s arguments, from a debate on the Trades Bill on 28 April 1909, remain true today she said: “But where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst
“...the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string... where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.”
Conference agreed and backed the call for the executive to:
- campaign to replace the NLW with the real Living Wage
- campaign for the national minimum wage’s steps to be time bound, related to a training programme and for young workers to have a contractual right to move to the real Living Wage once they have achieved the appropriate competence.