Opinion

Let's hope naming and shaming closes the book on deplorable minimum wage abuses

5 min read

15 August 2016

There are plenty of things most of us are glad have been consigned to the history books, but it appears some company owners still have their feet firmly in the past when it comes to getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

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Personally, I love a bit of history. I live and work in one of the world’s most historic cities and marvel, for example, at its unbelievable architecture from the last few centuries every time I drive around London. 

That of course, doesn’t mean that I want to return to the Victorian or Edwardian eras when it comes to how we treat workers. Unfortunately, some appear to be more at home in Ebenezer Scrooge’s candle-lit, freezing-cold office than a 21st century workplace.

I nearly chocked on my bacon sarnie the other morning when I heard that almost 200 businesses had been caught by HMRC for not paying the minimum wage. And let’s be clear about this, I’m not even talking about the £7.20 Living Wage, but the actual minimum wage, an hourly-rate that has been in place since 1999.

Nearly 700 firms have been caught bang to rights for not paying the minimum wage since the posse made up of the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, as was, and HMRC started to round each up in 2013.

And just like cattle on the open range, these businesses have been branded by having names and how much is owed plastered across the media. 

The newly-formed Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s “list of shame” is the largest ever published and contains 197 firms from all walks of business.

And, to be fair, it’s not the case of it being the “usual suspects” businesses expected to exploit staff – it truly is a mixture of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

From civil engineering firms and hairdressers, to takeaways and children’s nurseries, the shame of not paying staff the minimum, let along what they’re worth, isn’t restricted to a handful of sectors or even geographic regions. There’s even, I’m sad to say, a couple of plumbing firms in there, which boils my blood as you’d imagine.

Between them, all of these employers owed nearly half a million quid in arrears, which each have to pay directly to the employees affected.

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These firms, and I’m sure there are plenty more out there waiting to be snared by the government’s lasso, have to realise the damage being done to the economy and society. 

The ability to earn a fair day’s pay that enables someone to put a roof over their head, feed themselves and their family and perhaps buy a few luxuries every now and again is every person’s right. It’s the foundation on which our free enterprise society is built and encourages people to better themselves and develop a career.

However, if businesses hold back from paying the minimum or Living Wage, it forces employees below the poverty line or they have to rely on in-work benefits to top up their income.

Essentially, companies that fail to pay the minimum wage are basically being subsidised by government. It’s allowing these companies to keep more money in the coffers rather than properly paying the staff that actually bring the cash in through their hard work.

Hopefully, by continually naming and shaming these rogue firms, we might actually get to the point when the practice of robbing employees of what is morally and legally theirs is truly part of history, and we can at last close the book on this shameful chapter.

Charlie Mullins is the founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers – and a regular contributor to Real Business.

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