Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Those not paying minimum wage should be put in the stocks

4 min read

19 January 2015

I see that the next series of Benefits Street is going to be back on our screens soon, and it got my blood boiling.

We have to stop celebrating the culture of state-funded worklessness if we’re ever going to break the cycle that sees people leave school and never get close to employment.

The problem is, for all the efforts being made by government, charities and businesses, there are still a few firms out there exploiting people and making claiming benefits more attractive, and financially rewarding, than working. 

I was staggered to discover there are still firms out there, including some well-known names, which are still failing to pay the National Minimum Wage. 

Most recently, 37 were named and shamed, which is a good thing, because any business who pays their people less than the minimum deserves to be put in the stocks and have their bad practices exposed.

And does anyone really believe major firms like retailer H&M and Welcome Break, the service station operator, when they say that staff were paid below the minimum wage as a result of H&M’s “time logging errors” and Welcome Break’s “IT problems”?

Seriously, if these company bosses are struggling to work out an hourly rate on a calculator, you have to wonder how they manage to guide these multi-million pound operations to ring up such large profits.

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I’m sure they’d pay much more attention if, instead of the paltry £51,000 fine these 37 firms received, their CEOs got a 12-month stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

I do think it’s great that the government is attempting to crack down on businesses who fail to pay a minimum of £6.50 an hour to any staff aged over 21. But the fines of just £1,400 for each of the businesses in question are pathetic – especially when H&M racks up more than £600m in profit in three months alone.

The fact that these businesses have been named, shamed and reputations muddied probably does them more damage than any financial penalty.

However I’m eagerly awaiting the government’s proposed Small Business Bill, which will increase the level of fines to up to £20,000 and will be based on the number of employees underpaid. It’s vital these rogue employers are held to account. 

As a patron for The Princes Trust and a responsible employer, I have made it my mission over the last few years to get people off benefits and back into the work place.

The government have put a huge amount of resource into this. Businesses that avoid paying the minimum wage are undoing all that hard work, because what incentive do our young people have to go out and get a job when their employers rip them off and they are underpaid?

In our country there are millions who are officially in poverty, and what’s making it even more shocking is that more than half of those people are in work. 

For me, if you go to work every day you deserve a decent reward – no exceptions!

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