The government needs to take much stronger action to enforce the national minimum wage, raise living standards with a real living wage and introduce sector level collective bargaining, if it is serious about stopping unscrupulous bosses exploiting some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK, Unite, the country’s largest union, said tonight (Wednesday 15 February).
The union contrasted the government’s ‘light tap on the knuckles’ approach – just 13 prosecutions since 2007 – with America where employers are jailed for ‘wage theft’ for failing to pay employees the minimum wage.
Unite was commenting as the government said that it was ‘naming and shaming’ more than 350 employers – including high street retailer Debenhams – for underpaying 15,500 workers the national minimum wage.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The government needs to crack down further on employers who failed to pay the national minimum wage to some of the most low-paid and vulnerable workers in the country.
“The fact that the government has mounted only 13 prosecutions for non-compliance since 2007 is pathetic. In America, bad bosses are jailed and heavily fined for ‘wage theft’ which is what this is, exploiting workers in such a shameful fashion.
“The fact that an established household name like Debenhams is on the list is appalling. This is a major retailer with a large HR department – how could such non-payment be overlooked for so long?
“If top executives with mega pay packets weren’t getting their bonuses paid on time, all hell would break loose.
“What the government has announced today is welcome, but is only a small step in the right direction and much more is needed. To address growing levels of poverty a genuine living wage must be introduced, sector level collective bargaining introduced and stronger more effective enforcement funded.
“This would mean proper resources for the agencies responsible for enforcement and the cuts they have suffered in recent years to be reversed.
“Unite believes that the government’s national minimum wage currently £7.20 an hour is already inadequate, pathetically low for those under 21 and leading to obscene levels of growing poverty in our communities. Unite strongly support a minimum living wage of £10 an hour.”
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.