More than 160,000 workers will benefit from the national minimum wage which comes into effect today. The legislation providing for its implementation was passed by the Dail and Seanad earlier this week.

In a statement the Tanaiste, Mary Harney, said the minimum wage would end exploitation in the workplace once and for all. But, she said, it was also economically sensible because it protected employment and competitiveness. The new minimum wage has been set at £4.40 an hour, but the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness recommends that this should be increased to £5.00 from October 2002. Among those who will benefit most are hotel and catering workers, hair-dressing employees and agricultural workers.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is running a free phone service today where people can get information about the minimum wage. The number is 1800-440-400 and the service will operate from half past nine this morning until 6 o'clock this evening.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment also have a telephone for anyone who wants to make enquiries on the minimum wage. It is 01-6313131and it is open until 4 p.m. today.