By Daniel Hunter

The birthday of the national minimum wage (NMW) should be celebrated with an immediate increase of £1.50 an hour, Unite, the country's largest union, said.

Unite said that a real cause for concern was the onward march of inflation that was eroding the value of the NMW for the millions of workers and their families who rely on it.

Yet at the same time, the UK's corporations were awash with cash and could well afford to boost the current NMW rate of £6.19 an hour by £1.50. The union said those under the age of 21 should be paid the full NMW rate.

"If we had a government with any imagination, it would raise the current rate of the national minimum wage by £1.50 an hour. This would be an excellent way to celebrate the NMW's 15th birthday," Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said.

"This would help raise workers out of the poverty wages that mean-spirited bosses insist on paying. It would also put money into wallets and purses, and increase spending power in the nation's high streets.

"Contrary to right wing claims in the late 1990s, the NMW has not cost jobs - in fact, many enlightened employers are paying the more realistic 'living wage' as they recognise the value of a decently paid workforce.

"This needs to be put in the context of companies making excellent profits, and the bosses in the boardroom still greedily boosting their salaries and receiving often-undeserved bonuses.

"Companies can't be allowed to continue paying wages that are constantly diluted by inflation and then expect the state i.e. the taxpayer to top up these wages with working tax credits.

"Firms can well afford to pay the extra £1.50, as UK corporations made profits of £82.8 billion in the first quarter of this year. This is up 4.9 per cent on the previous quarter and up 7.7 per cent on the corresponding quarter a year ago.

"Raising the NMW would help reduce the welfare budget by billions as hundreds of thousands of workers began to receive better wages."

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