Plans to ‘name and shame’ employers who refuse to pay the national minimum wage (NMW) need ‘real legal teeth’, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Friday 23 August).
While cautiously welcoming the announcement by Jo Swinson, junior minister at the business department, Unite warned that the government still needed to get tough with recalcitrant employers.
With only eight prosecutions since the national minimum wage was introduced in April 1999, the union urged the government to reverse its own changes that make it even harder for wronged workers to access justice.
Unite executive director of policy Steve Turner said: “If the government is serious, then this is a welcome step in the right direction to help more than one million workers who rely on the national minimum wage put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
“Any employer that ‘ducks and dives’ in a bid not to pay the minimum wage of £6.19 an hour is a disgrace, warm words from coalition ministers will not be enough – there needs to be a legal framework with sharp teeth to bring bad bosses to account.
“The NMW is the law - not paying it is robbery, plain and simple, but there are currently too many legal hurdles in the way of workers seeking justice, such as ‘proving intent’ that an employer has failed to pay the NMW.
"The penalty for non-compliance is a joke, capped at £5,000 which is loose change for a big national employer. Contrast that with bootlegging a t-shirt and the penalties for trademark infringement are unlimited fines and the threat of prison. The penalties need to be increased drastically if they are to have a deterrent effect and put workers on a par with a logo.
“Naming and shaming is one thing and it can help change the business culture. But it is not the sole solution to this problem. Workers, who have had their pay packets raided by their employer, need to obtain justice, yet this government has put this beyond their means.
“The prohibitive fees introduced last month for workers to take a case to an employment tribunal deepen worker vulnerability to abuse. They must be rescinded.
“There is a no way that a worker on the national minimum wage can stump up to £1,200 to get a hearing at an employment tribunal.”
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940.
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.