The UK government has fined a string of companies, including high street brands, SMEs and restaurants, for paying staff below the minimum wage threshold.
Some, such as the retailer H&M, and the motorway services retailer Welcome Break, were responsible for multiple small infractions, with H&M short-changing 540 staff by an average of £4.65. However, some smaller businesses were found to be chronically underpaying employees by thousands of pounds.
In addition to the fines, which totalled £51,000, each company was told to pay back the money owed to staff. Ms Thap Thi Ly, the owner of Sweet N Sour Chinese takeaway in Fleetwood, Lancashire, was instructed to pay back £11,039 owed to two workers who had been paid below the minimum wage, while Chi Yip Group, a Middleton-based meat and fish wholesalers, had neglected to pay a total of £15,567 to 13 employees.
The biggest bill went to Kings Group LLP, a property lettings agency, which was told to repay £53,808 – returning just over £1000 each to 53 individual workers.
In October, 55 employers were found to have underpaid staff by a total of £139,000 and were ordered to pay back the wages in arrears, plus penalties of over £60,000.
All three major parties have criticised companies that underpay workers and have called for a higher minimum wage. “Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal, immoral and completely unacceptable,” said Business Minister Jo Swinson in a statement. “If employers break this law they need to know that we will take tough action by naming, shaming and fining them as well as helping workers recover the hundreds of thousands of pounds in pay owed to them.”
However, given the reliance placed on unpaid internships by successive government agencies, some may doubt the seriousness of any party’s commitment to safeguarding the minimum wage
Research conducted by the Sutton Trust in November concluded that unpaid internships not only fail to reward interns financially but actually cost them £926 per month, prevent social mobility and are increasingly making careers in areas such as law, journalism and banking the primary preserve of the rich. The report also found that 70% of people consider unpaid internships to be unfair, with the majority of people across all wealth brackets agreeing that interns should be paid the minimum wage.