Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

New Pay and Work Rights Helpline

The Citizens Advice run National Minimum Wage (NMW) Helpline for Northern Ireland which has operated since September 2001 closed at the end of October 2009.

From this date the responsibility for NMW queries and complaint reporting was transferred to the newly launched UK-wide Pay & Work Rights Helpline, funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Since 2001 the NMW Helpline for Northern Ireland has taken over 24,000 calls and referred over 900 complaints to the HMRC Compliance Team for investigation resulting in over £3million pounds of arrears being identified for over 8,000 workers in Northern Ireland. The staff of the NMW Helpline for Northern Ireland want to thank all those who have contributed to making the Helpline such a great success and who enabled this proactive project to result in tangible benefits for some of Northern Ireland’s lowest paid workers.

The new Pay and Work Rights Helpline will now take up the reigns providing advice and information to workers and employers about both NMW and Gangmasters Licensing legislation and passing suspected cases of non-compliance to the respective agencies for investigation. This Helpline is now a UK-wide service which also offers Agricultural Wages, Working Time Regulations and Employment Agency Standards advice to callers from England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland callers who have queries regarding any of these other enforcement areas will be signposted to the relevant agency in Northern Ireland by the Helpline.

The Pay & Work Rights Helpline has been implemented as a one-stop-shop for anyone who needs information about one of the five areas of enforcement. The operators have been specially trained to identify the enforcement issues and recognise where overlaps or cross-agency enforcement occurs. As employment legislation continues to develop agencies are seeing more and more cases where there may need to be several enforcement agencies involved. For example, a National Minimum Wage case may involve a breach in Working Time Regulations or a Gangmaster Licensing case can often have elements of Agricultural Minimum Wage or Employment Agency Standards. This new service offers callers the opportunity to speak to one adviser who is trained in all these areas who can if necessary take one set of details to be forwarded to the necessary agencies for follow up; therefore avoiding a caller having to make several calls to different agencies and explain the situation over again. Similarly, the service also offers confidential information and advice to employers who can often also be confused about the various elements of enforcement legislation. Employers can call in confidence and seek advice about how to comply with the different standards.

By way of a reminder from 1 October 2009 the NMW rate for 16 and 17 year olds will increase to £3.57 per hour, the rate for 18-21 year olds will be £4.83 per hour and the rate for those aged 22 and over will be £5.80 per hour. The Government has also accepted a Low Pay Commission recommendation that the adult rate of the minimum wage should be extended to 21-year-olds. This will be implemented from October 2010.

Further help on all aspects of the NMW for both employers and employees is available, in confidence, from the Pay & Work Rights Helpline 0800 917 2368 or by visiting the website at www.directgov.co.uk/payandworkrights

Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice

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