Letter – Workers treated like dirt – Mick Roberts

We will be reproducing letters written to the Crewe Chronicle written by our very own activists. This way we can preserve those letters for your viewing leisure. Here is another cracker from activist and trade unionist Mick Roberts. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday 22nd May, 2018

Dear Editor,

Workers treated like dirt.

Every week in Tory Britain millions of working families struggle just to make ends meet, yet nothing is done about companies who flagrantly evade paying the legal minimum wage. The National Minimum Wage introduced in 1998, against a howling backdrop of screaming employers, was designed to be a legal floor protecting workers against unscrupulous bosses. Instead, in modern Britain, due to the ease in which workers can be exploited it has become a ceiling that acts to drag down the wages of other workers.

We must be the only country in the developed world where employers actually boast about paying minimum wage rates. Everywhere else (except America) paying a worker the least amount possible for their work without committing a crime would be seen as shameful. What is even worse is that our exploitative environment is still not enough for many British bosses and so they deliberately flout the law with what appears, from the low levels of prosecution, to be complete impunity.

UK employment legislation is so one-sided it makes it almost certain that many more abuses are going on unheard of due to a fear of reprisals. What an absolute disgrace. We need strong new measures for tackling this exploitation. I would hazard a guess that our tribunals are not full of disgruntled directors chasing the remuneration that their company “forgot” to pay them. But they are full of workers chasing unpaid wages and contractual allowances that their employer has failed to pay.

Whilst our minimum wage levels are inadequate and discriminatory they do at least offer the lowest paid workers a benchmark that employers are compelled to meet. That said too many companies still fail to pay and the penalty level does not exert any pressure on them. A decent government, that had the interests of working people at its heart, would change this.

According to figures issued by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 there were more than 350,000 jobs paying less than the legal minimum. This of course does not include those forced to work in the gig economy.

Further analysis by the Low Pay Commission reports that a fifth of workers entitled to an increase when the minimum wage is uprated annually do not receive a rise. Many workers are forced to wait as long as 6 months to get the statutory increase. Last year a staggering half a million workers were not receiving the statutory minimum wage, a number that has more than doubled since 2015. Over two-thirds of these workers are female.

Action by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in 2017 helped 13,000 workers to recover wage arrears and 233 businesses were named and shamed for underpaying their workers. The list includes a number of household names.

Clearly the continued failure of many companies to pay legal wage levels suggests that the enforcement and penalty for failure to pay are not sufficiently dissuasive. The naming and shaming of companies who exploit their workers is not solving the problem. Prosecutions are as rare as hen’s teeth and the financial penalties imposed are too low. Punishment bears little relationship to company profitability or the hardship caused to the worker. The fact that there have been only 13 prosecutions for failure to pay the minimum wage underlines the inadequacy of the enforcement regime.

The Companies Act 2006 requires directors “to have regard for the interests of the company’s employees” when making decisions. Therefore directors who sanction exploitative wages need personal penalties applied against them.

These are companies I would hazard a guess that never forget to pay board member remuneration.

Failure to pay the minimum wage to hundreds of thousands of workers illustrates the deep nature of the imbalance within UK employment legislation. Failure to pay the minimum wage is theft, these companies are breaking the law of the land. Failure to pay the minimum wage should lead to criminal prosecutions and fines on directors.

If the above measures were introduced and robustly applied the level of abuse would plummet but what is really needed is a cultural shift within UK boardrooms to end the practice of treating workers like dirt.

Yours sincerely,
Mick Roberts

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