Belfast Telegraph

Editor's view: Short-changing of staff is inexcusable

Editor's Viewpoint

The introduction of the national minimum wage by the Labour Government in 1999 - in which Sir George Bain, formerly of Queen's University, played an important role as chairman of the Low Pay Commission which set out detailed proposals for the legislation - was one of the great social policy initiatives of recent times.

Its aim was to set a uniform pay benchmark - tiered according to age - for all workers, and initial fears expressed by employers that it would cost jobs have proved largely groundless.

Given the length of time that the legislation has been in force, it is disappointing that some employers still fail to meet their obligation to their staff.

A Government report has named and shamed 17 Northern Ireland businesses which ran foul of the legislation. Some were for relatively minor underpayments to a small number of people, but others involved significant sums of money.

For people on that level of earnings, any underpayment must be regarded as serious. After all, it is meant to protect people who are on zero hour contracts, part-time work, or just starting out on the employment ladder, as well as full-time workers. None of those can afford to be underpaid.

The responses given to this newspaper by some of the businesses named demonstrate that underpayments were the result of genuine mistakes and it has to be accepted that can occur, particularly in small firms, unless proper accounting safeguards are in place.

In these technologically advanced times, software is readily available to take account of differing wage bands and to automatically make adjustments when employees move from one band to another.

Now that the Government has shown that it is serious about monitoring how businesses implement the national minimum wage, there can be no excuse for employers who do not ensure that their workers get what is due to them.

The legislation was introduced to ensure that workers were not exploited, and while many might regard the levels set as modest, nevertheless they represent a genuine attempt to reward workers fairly.

And for any employer who thinks that the Government has dealt them a poor hand, they should contemplate the words of even higher authority. In the Bible, King James version, Luke says: "For the labourer is worthy of his hire." Indeed.

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