With the Workers’ Party – or is it the Party of Equality? – leaving no stone unturned in its titanic struggle to “end discrimination and finish the fight for equality in our country”, last month saw the Department for Business, Innovation & Workers’ Rights name & shame another 115 minimum wage (NMW) rogues. Well, another 113 NMW rogues, once you exclude the two businesses – London-based Danhouse Security and Scottish business C & R Tyres – the Department had already named & shamed for the very same breaches of the NMW, in November 2014 and February 2015 respectively.
How hard can it be to manage an Excel spreadsheet? Too hard for the mandarins at BIS, obviously.
The inclusion of Monsoon Accessorize for the retailer’s failure to pay an average of £72.68 to 1,438 of its employees predictably dominated press and media coverage, but otherwise the list of 113 was much like all previous rounds of naming & shaming in being comprised almost entirely of small fry – many of them very small fry indeed. Excluding Monsoon Accessorize, the average underpayment (and so financial penalty) was £2,537.65, and the average underpayment per worker just £1,124.53 (that is, less than the £1,200 that the Party of Equality thinks it is entirely reasonable to charge low-paid workers to pursue a tribunal claim for race, sex or other discrimination). And, excluding the 1,438 Monsoon Accessorize employees, NMW underpayments were recovered by HMRC for just 255 employees of the other 112 firms.
In 53 of all 113 cases, the total underpayment (and so financial penalty) was less than £1,000, and in all but 15 cases it was less than £5,000. In 77 of the 113 cases, just one worker was underpaid, and only in 13 cases were five or more workers underpaid by the employer. Lucky the Coalition government upped the maximum penalty to £20,000 per worker, eh?
And, as with previous rounds of naming & shaming, the list of 113 was dominated by local hairdressers & beauty salons (25); pubs, cafes and hotels (16); and second hand-car dealers (8). I know – not least because former BIS mandarin Bill Wells keeps telling me – that the NMW apprenticeship rates might be difficult for small hairdressing business owners to fully understand, but does that really explain HMRC’s apparent obsession with the sector? And when-oh-when are BIS going to start naming & shaming some of the 100+ social care employers that, back in April this year, then BIS minister Jo Swinson said HMRC were then investigating? (Yes, Bill, I know, there is absolutely no abuse of the NMW in the social care sector, the authors of all those reports saying the opposite are simply deluded).
So – not that Gem will notice, she’s far too busy fighting HR wars with her lightsaber at #CIPD15 – here’s an updated chart, showing the 398 NMW rogues named & shamed by BIS to date, by sector.
In many ways it’s not surprising that it is tiny businesses – like hairdressers – that get caught by the NMW. They are very unlike to use any sort of professional adviser (except perhaps an accountant to do their end of year tax return) and I would guess that in the majority of cases underpayments are due to ignorance of the rules or a failure to keep up to date (perhaps continuing to apply an “old” NMW rate). Whereas it is a shock when a big company like Monsoon fall foul of the rules when they have access to HR departments, employment lawyers etc. So I would expect that the majority of “named and shamed” companies to be the small fry you highlight. But I also agree that it is odd that no social care organisations have been caught – certainly the smaller ones (those running a single home or a very small localised agency etc) are similar in that respect to the other small businesses that do get caught.
I agree with your essential point that the NMW enforcement seems focussed on the small fry.
But, having said that, in the employment context the question ‘Are hairdressers really *that* bad?’ is always ‘Yes’.
That should obviously be ‘the answer to the question….’ — it’s been a long week,