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.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The Minimum Wage became law in the UK in April 1999. It is set and reviewed by the Low Pay Commission. Employers who flout the law are liable to be fined.
In September 2010 CAS published a detailed evidence report on the National Minimum Wage, which included a call for a Fair Employment Commission, ‘to oversee employer activity, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against rogue employers’. This 2010 report is available here.
Please click here for Appendix A - CAS Survey of Scottish CAB Advisers
Appendix B - Examples of CAB Case Evidence
These cases have been reported to us by CAB staff across Scotland in the last year or so. They are all anonymous, as we always guarantee the privacy of our clients. But they do offer a representative sample of the sort of issues our advisers see in relation to this issue.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client in her 20s who has been working for her employer for 6 weeks and reports unfair deductions on her wage slip resulting in non payment of wages. The client has brought this up with the main office who said they could not explain the deductions and that the client should be ‘grateful for being in employment when thousands of people are not’. The client continued to ask about her wages, and was dismissed immediately. The client has still not received the wages owed to her.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 21 year old employee who is paid £4 per hour – well below the minimum wage. He approached his employer about the shortfall, but he disputes the client’s entitlement to the wage and refuses to pay. The client started as an apprentice five years ago but is now a qualified mechanic.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a young client who works at a hair salon and refused to sign a form which would have tied her to an hourly wage of £2.26. The client used to be an apprentice but has completed her course at college and is now entitled to minimum wage. On refusing to sign the form she was told not to come back to work. She is still owed outstanding wages for hours worked.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is originally from Italy and has been working as a waiter here for the last three months. The client was supposed to work 32 hours per week at £5.80 per hour. The client has realised that his payslips do not match all the hours he has worked. He has kept a record of his own hours and entitlements, and states that he is being paid £5.00 an hour instead of £5.80. The client does not receive any holiday pay either.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is in college and is on an approved apprenticeship as a Vehicle Body & Paint Operator. The client is paid by the garage but all his travel and accommodation is paid by the Council. The client is starting his second year apprenticeship working 40 hours for £65 per week (£1.62 an hour). The other students at his college cannot believe he would work for such a low wage, stating that when they started their first year in apprenticeship they earned more than £2.50 an hour.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a 17 year old client who is an apprentice hairdresser, but has no written contract or agreed wage. The client is paid a varying wage from week to week and does not receive any pay slips.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is 18 and currently receiving £50.95 pw in Jobseekers Allowance. The client responded to an advert for a ‘skillseeker’ job as a child carer at a school. The client has since been told that there was a mistake in the advert and that she would be expected to work 35 hours for £55 pw. She thinks this is unfair, but is concerned that if she turns the job down her Jobseekers Allowance will be stopped.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 16 year old client who works weekends at a hair salon. She got the job because the employer approached her, saying they could get her a training place if she left school and came to work full-time. The client agreed and began full-time work and training. The client works approximately 40 hours per week and is at present receiving £70.00 per week (£1.75 an hour). The client has not received any contract of employment.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of clients who work at a local firm which is only taking on drivers if they are prepared to be self employed (i.e. contractors but without a contract in writing). The drivers are mainly Polish and are being paid below the minimum wage. The employees also have to arrange their own tax and National Insurance contributions and have no rights regarding sick pay and holiday pay. The employer’s attitude seems to be that if you don't like the job you should just leave, as there are plenty of people looking for work. The employees do not wish to make a fuss in case they lose their jobs.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client from Latvia who worked for a cleaning company for several years at £5.73 an hour. The client has never received holiday pay from the company and has not received her last two weeks wages after being made redundant. The client has found out that the company has hired new employees to fill her previous position – despite being told the position had been made redundant and would not be filled.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works part time at an average of 50 hours a month. He came to us because his employer was withholding pay from all staff over Christmas and New Year – explaining to staff that he was introducing a ‘lie week’. Holiday pay was not being paid either. On looking into the issue we found that the client was not being paid the national minimum wage either.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who works as a waitress and earns £4.40 an hour. The client’s employer has reduced her hours from 40 to 12-18 hours pw, owing to a tail-off in business at the restaurant. The client wanted to check her rights but also says that she likes her work and wants to stay, as she hopes business picks up.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose employment contract with the restaurant he works at states that he will be paid £4.50 p/h and with tips up to £6.00 an hour. His holiday pay would be at the minimum wage of £5.73. On asking the employer for information about how the tips were shared, the client was dismissed with one week's notice pay and holiday pay to be paid out.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client under the age of 18 who is being paid less than the National Minimum Wage. The client has recently started working at a café and noted that she is being paid £2.74 per hour.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who did not receive pay for 100 hours of work and was told that this was because he had voluntarily left employment. The client insists that this was not the case and that she has effectively been dismissed without receiving any pay whatsoever.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client and some of her co workers who have worked around 90-100 hours overtime in the last 6 weeks but are not getting paid regularly. The pay is coming in slowly and there is no note of what days they have been paid. The client does not have a written contract.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is an apprentice with a take home pay of £813 per month. The client lives in rented accommodation with his partner who is 5 months pregnant. The client is struggling to meet his basic expenses.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 17 year old client who is paid below the National Minimum Wage as she trains to be a hairdresser. It is legal for official apprentices to be paid less than the NMW, but the client is not an apprentice. The client works a 51 hour week for a wage of £90. We advised the client that she should be earning £3.53 an hour until she turns 18.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a 16 year old client who is receiving just over £2.00 an hour for a 38 hour week in a hair salon. The client is not on a government apprenticeship scheme, so should be paid the national minimum wage.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a young client who took a part-time job as a waitress in a café where it was stated that tips would be used to make up her wages. When the client took the job, all the tips were pooled and shared between staff, but the employer now takes all the tips because business is poor.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 21 year old client who used to be an apprentice but is now a qualified mechanic. The client approached his employer about receiving the national minimum wage but was refused. The client is currently earning £4 an hour. The employer is also deducting payment from the client’s wages for damage caused to a car.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has worked for a Hair and Beauty salon for over a year. The client started working at the salon at 16 years old, straight after school. She understood that she would be paid the National Minimum Wage. However in over a year she has been paid a rate of just over £2.00 per hour. She has had no tax or NI deductions from her wages either.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of an 18 year old client who is employed as a hairdresser for 40 hours a week, earning £80 a week. The client originally started working for her employer on a skillseekers programme, but has now completed her initial training and received her certificate, so is no longer serving an apprenticeship and is therefore entitled to a proper wage.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose 15 year old daughter is keen to be a hairdresser and so sought temporary work after school at a local hair salon. She worked from 4pm to 6pm after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for a wage of £3.73 per hour. She then decided to leave and work for another salon, and as a result of this her original employer refuses to pay her for work done.
A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client aged 19 who worked at a holiday park. The client left the job after the employer failed to pay her. She had not received a contract, nor any wage slips. The client thinks she is owed about £400 in unpaid wages. The CAB reports that this is one of many similar cases relating to this particular employer, who is based in England and never responds to any attempts to make contact.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who worked for a franchised sandwich shop and was dismissed without warning after 3 weeks of work. The shop manager told him the decision had been made by the franchise owner. The client is owed £218 for 45 hours of work. He spoke to the franchise owner about the unpaid wages and was told that an enquiry is ongoing regarding money missing from the till and that he would not be paid until the enquiry is completed. According to the client, the franchise owner has treated other staff similarly on many other occasions.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a 17 year old client who was recruited by the area manager of a well known fast-food eatery for a position as a casual worker. The client was not given any formal contract agreement or written details of the job, but was asked to undergo a 4 hour trial, after which he could commence full-time work the next day. The client completed the trial and was taken on, but was dismissed from work five days later. He has yet to be paid, and feels that he was bullied and harassed.
A West of Scotland CAB reports of a 20 year old client who recently lost her job after being told that her employer was going into receivership. The client was not paid holiday pay, nor the increased hourly rate that had been agreed a few months prior. According to the client's calculations she was paid less than the minimum wage. She states that her former employer still has a number of businesses trading – despite claiming at the time of her dismissal that he was going bankrupt.