Britain's largest trade union has called on the government to raise the minimum wage to £6.50 an hour in response to the growing pay gap between bosses and the shop floor.
Unison said the minimum wage rate, currently £4.85 an hour, had risen at a "snail's pace" since it was set at £3.60 an hour in 1999 while directors' pay over the same period had rocketed.
Unison said that the minimum wage had been held back by the "prophets of doom at the CBI" and that a "calculated leap forward" was needed to tackle poverty and get workers off benefits.
"Why should workers have to rely on state handouts just to make ends meet and why should taxpayers be lumbered with subsidising poverty wage employers, while they rake in the profits?" said Unison's General Secretary, Dave Prentis.
“Big Business scaremongering and self-interest continues to undermine the minimum wage’s potential to eradicate poverty and get workers off benefits”, he said.
"This blatant self-interest has seen the pay gap between directors at the top and workers at the bottom grow wider."
The CBI's head of employment policy, Anthony Thompson, was not impressed: "This is a cloud cuckoo land figure. The minimum wage has been a success because it has been maintained at a cautious level", he said.
"Now is not the time to throw caution to the wind when so many firms are under pressure from rising costs.
"It is irresponsible to propose such a huge hike when the latest rise has only been in place for a month and there has been no opportunity to assess its impact."
Earlier this year, Incomes Data Services' Directors' Pay Report 2004 found that the average total remuneration received by directors of the UK's 350 leading firms rose by 16.1 per cent in the 12 months to 30 June 2004.
Average total earnings of all employees increased by only 4.3 per cent over the same period.