UK ‘shame list’ names firms that underpay staff

The UK government has “named and shamed” at total of 360 employers that have failed to pay either the national minimum wage or the national living wage to more than 15,500 workers.

The high street department store Debenhams is shown as the worst offender, heading the list published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

UK business minister Margot James said that by naming and shaming offending businesses government was “sending a clear message to employers that minimum wage abuses will not go unpunished”.

“Every worker in the UK is entitled to at least the national minimum or living wage and this government will ensure they get it,” she added.

The national living wage was introduced last April and requires UK employers to pay at least £7.20 (US$9.00/€8.50) an hour to employees aged 25 and over. The minimum wage of £6.70 per hour applies to workers between 21 and 24, with lower rates for younger people and apprentices.

The UK government began regularly publishing a list of underpaying employers in 2013. To date, more than 1,000 employers have been named for underpaying staff more than £4.5m in total. A further 1,500 cases are under investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Trade union the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IGWB) has also argued that growth in the so-called “gig-economy, which now accounts for an estimated 5m UK workers, is simply a euphemism for low-paid insecure work. “The gig-economy means that instead of a regular wage, workers are paid for the gigs they do – whether delivering food as a Deliveroo courier or driving a car as an Uber driver, it stated in a submission to the government.

“Workers are often constrained to sign contracts which do not reflect the legal reality of their employment status and as such result in depriving them of the basic employment rights to which they should be entitled.”

Another trade union, Unite also called for firmer action against senior executives whose businesses underpay staff, including the introduction of a “wage theft” offence punishable with a jail sentence, similar to an existing one in the US.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the “name and shame” policy was welcome, but bigger deterrents were needed and that it was “pathetic” that only 13 UK businesses had been prosecuted for underpayment since 2007. “In America, bad bosses are jailed and heavily fined for ‘wage theft’, which is what this is, exploiting workers in such a shameful fashion,” he added.

Debenhams was found to have failed to pay early £135,000 to 11,858 of its workers, which it said was due to a “technical error in its payroll calculations”. The error had led to an average underpayment of around £10 per person, which the company said had been paid immediately after an HMRC audit discovered the shortfall.

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