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Employers 'exploiting workers and breaking the law' on minimum wage

Citizens Advice Scotland have called for action to force employers to obey the minimum wage laws, as evidence emerges that many workers are being exploited by employers who break the law.

The issue is highlighted in a BBC Scotland documentary – ‘Low Pay Nation’ – to be broadcast tonight at 22.35 on BBC1. CAS have contributed evidence and interviews to the programme.

CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,

“This programme highlights a serious problem. The minimum wage has now been law for over ten years, but a significant number of employers are refusing to pay it, and as a result workers across Scotland are being exploited on illegal wages.

“Our own evidence shows that this issue affects many people in Scotland, particularly young people and migrant workers. We surveyed Scottish CAB advisers over the summer, and we release the findings of that survey today. These are the people who are in the front-line of advising the victims of this problem, and their views are based on their experience of real cases they have dealt with.”

Among the main points shown by the survey of CAB advisers:

  • Over half (53.3%) say this is a ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ significant problem in their area. Only 3.7% said it wasn’t an issue at all.
  • 9 out of 10 say the problem is ‘the same or worse’ than it was 2 years ago, with less than 10% saying the problem is decreasing.
  • Women are more than twice as likely to be affected than men, and over half of respondents said the problem affected migrant workers.
  • In terms of age, young people are by far the most likely victims: 73.3% of CAB staff reported that the problem was worst for those under the age of 24. Indeed, over a third said they had seen it afflict those aged just 16-17.
  • The industries where the problem is most endemic include hotels, restaurants and cafes, with hairdressers and the construction industry also mentioned by many advisers.

Full details of the survey are given below (appendix A)

Susan McPhee continues,

“As Scots struggle to get through the recession it is simply unacceptable that many of them are having to do so on wages that are below the legal rate. The cost of living is rising fast – with fuel bills for example rising yet again as we head into another Scottish winter.

“All political parties now accept the principle of a minimum wage, but it seems that some employers believe the law is optional.

“Our experience also shows that many workers are unaware of their rights, or lack confidence in how to fight for them. Local CAB advisers will help anyone who is being exploited at work, and we would like to see more done to raise public awareness of workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities. But the main solution to this problem is quite simple. Employers need to be compelled to obey the law.

“We have in the past called for a Fair Employment Commission, and we repeat that call today. Such a body, equipped with real powers, would address a number of unfair employment practices. But right at the top of its agenda would be making sure that nobody is excluded from the right to a fair and legal wage.”

The BBC Scotland documentary, ‘Low Pay Nation’ will be broadcast on Tuesday 27 September on BBC1.

For more information, interviews etc. please call Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655. NB This is the number of the CAS Press Office, for use by journalists only. If you are a member of the public looking for CAB advice please contact your local bureau.