Monday, 7 April 2014

No excuses

In January[1], I wrote about the need for the government to take urgent action to restore the value of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and to enforce it in practice.

In March[2], the government announced above inflation increases to take effect from October. However, the increase is still not sufficient to regain the value in 2010, since when all other increases have been somewhat below inflation.

The responsibility for enforcement of the NMW rests with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), although it is not believed that the Queen herself has yet been out on a raid. HMRC’s enforcement teams investigate complaints and have responsibility for educating employers and employees about what happens if they fail to pay what they must.

Last year, HMRC’s investigations resulted in over 26,000 people getting a total of £4 million in back pay. However, I believe that much more should be done and that some employers have got away too lightly with cheating employees and competitors.

To coincide with NMW’s 15th anniversary, HMRC has published[3] a list of the worst excuses it has seen over the past year for employers failing to pay the minimum wage.
Try these:

1. An employer said a woman on the premises was not entitled to the minimum wage as she was his wife. When asked what his wife’s name was, the employer said: “Err, her name? What’s your name, love?”

2. One employer told HMRC: “My employees don’t speak English, so they’re not entitled to it.

3. An employee ran out of the premises when HMRC officers arrived to check for minimum wage infringements. The same employee then returned - minus the work pinafore - with the employer claiming they were a customer.

4. Another employer told HMRC: “When the NMW goes up I do increase the amount I pay a little, even if the total pay is still below the NMW. I don’t think it’s right to ignore rises in NMW.

5. Upon inspection, an employer told HMRC: “I know I am paying them too little, but they are happy to work for this amount because they are getting experience.”

6. An employer said his employee was just working for a few days, with a view to buying the business. When HMRC checked food safety records, the employee’s name was found on historic food temperature records.

7. An employer claimed they realised they were not paying employees the minimum wage and had just this week increased their wages - to an hourly rate which was still below the minimum wage.

8. An employer told HMRC: “It wasn’t a conscious decision to say ‘I’m not going to pay this’, but I’ve never really considered doing it because I’ve not had people come to me and say: ‘I’m not getting paid enough’ or: ‘Is this the minimum wage?’”

9. One employer claimed an employee was just a friend, and only in the restaurant as they were in the area. HMRC officers returned another day to find the employee in the kitchen preparing food.

10. A number of employers claimed that accommodation they provided workers made up for their shortfall in wages.

No excuses. I’m clear that employers who fail to pay properly should be forced to pay the back pay and hefty fines.

More information about the different minimum wage rates, which depend upon age and apprentice status, can be found at

If you believe you are not being paid the minimum wage, call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline, in confidence, for advice, in more than 100 languages, on 0800 917 2368. Calls to the Helpline from interns who are working for nothing, or for “expenses only”, are being fast-tracked for investigation.