By Daniel Hunter

The TUC has today (Wednesday) urged the government to freeze the lower thresholds in the auto-enrolment regime - keeping the bottom of the earnings band on which contributions have to be paid (£5,564) and the earnings level at which auto-enrolment is triggered (£7,475) - at their current levels.

The government is set to introduce a new earnings trigger for auto-enrolment, following their review, which recommended that workers should only be auto-enrolled once their earnings rose above the income tax threshold (£7,475). They would still pay contributions from the bottom of the earnings band.

However, the TUC argues that women would be the main losers from the new earnings trigger as the vast majority of workers with pay between the lower limit of the earnings band and the income tax threshold are women working part-time. The auto-enrolment trigger should therefore be frozen, says the TUC.

The TUC believes that linking auto-enrolment with the income tax threshold is particularly damaging given the coalition plans to increase it to £10,000.

A TUC analysis of official earnings data shows that the new earnings trigger could eventually stop around two million women from being auto-enrolled into pensions.

More than one in seven female workers (15.5 per cent or 1.9 million) currently earn more than the current lower earnings band (£5,564) but under £10,000. One in three female part-time workers (1.7 million) earn between the current lower earnings band and £10,000.

"Auto-enrolment is a huge advance. But no-one can pretend that contributions are good enough, particularly during the long wait before every company is covered by auto-enrolment and the two years after that before everyone gets their full contribution," TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said.

"The government should use its review of the thresholds to widen the earnings band each year by freezing the lower limit, while increasing the upper band limit in line with earnings. This would give a small manageable increase in the earnings band each year. It's the pensions equivalent of fiscal drag - raising more tax by freezing tax thresholds.

"In particular we urge the government not to raise the auto-enrolment earnings trigger in line with the income tax threshold, which the coalition is keen to raise to £10,000. Whether this is the best way to help the low-paid is an interesting debate, but it would be disastrous if it had the unintended consequence of excluding a significant proportion of women workers from pensions saving."

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