The national living wage should be extended to younger workers, otherwise they will be “left behind”, says the TUC.
In evidence to the Low Pay Commission, the union organisation said the top rate of the wage should apply to all workers aged 21 and over.
General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Minimum wage pay rates aren’t increasing fast enough and the Government’s target of £9 an hour by 2020 now seems a fantasy.
“Younger workers deserve to be treated fairly.
“Why are 21 to 24-year-olds getting less pay than their colleagues for the same work, when they face the same expenses as other adults and are highly productive?
“The minimum wage needs a serious boost in the coming years, especially for younger workers.
“With employment, the economy and earnings set to grow next year, employers will be able to afford a decent rise, and higher rates will need to be properly enforced to be meaningful.”
The gap between the hourly rates for 21 to 24-year-olds and those over 25 was 25p in 2016 and 45p in 2017, so it has widened by £416 a year, said the TUC.
The living wage for workers aged 25 and over is currently £7.50 an hour, 45p more than those aged 21 to 24.
A Government spokesman said: “The national minimum wage for 21-24 year olds increased to £7.05 on April 1 - their second pay rise in just six months.
“Despite UK employment rates being at a record high, youth unemployment is almost four times higher than for workers aged 25 and over.
“Our priority is to help young workers secure work and gain experience, and that is reflected in the minimum wage structure.”