Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland nursery owner wants apology over minimum wage 'confusion'

By John Mulgrew

A nursery owner has blasted the Government for "unfairly" including her business in a list of firms which it said had failed to pay staff the minimum wage.

Geraldine Kelly (46) from Co Tyrone was one of 48 business owners 'named and shamed' by the Government, which said they had failed to pay employees the lowest legal wage.

But Ms Kelly - who runs New Hope Nursery in Enniskillen - said she was included in the list because of confusion over whether she had to pay her workers for first aid and child protection training, not that she underpaid her employees.

That led to her name being added to a long list of businesses across the UK which had failed to pay workers the hourly minimum wage. It included big high street names such as French Connection and Foot Locker.

She told the Belfast Telegraph all her staff were paid the legal requirement of £6.50 an hour. Ms Kelly said the decision was "extremely unfair" and could have "serious impact" on her business. And she's also calling for an apology.

Despite attempts to explain her case to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills - which runs the scheme - the body said it "found that there was no evidence to suggest New Hope Creche should not have been named".

Ms Kelly said she was told she had to pay 11 staff who undertook training, following an inspection by HM Revenue and Customs. "They asked me, 'Did the girls do any training?', and I said they would do their first aid or child protection. That's valid for three years," she said. "He (the inspector) came back and said, 'You have to pay for this time when they were doing the course'.

"It was only £343 with 11 girls, but they also fined me £190. That was for not paying for the hours," she said.

"Say the girls were put through for 30 hours, with the course included it might have brought that up to 33 hours - I was then coming under the minimum wage for that week."

Ms Kelly said she then paid her staff their additional wages for the training, and thought that was the matter closed. "I think it's very unfair and I feel targeted. To be tarred with the same brush as businesses that are not putting staff through for minimum wage, I thought it was very unfair."

A spokesman for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills said "employers should be aware that hours spent in training must not take the pay that people receive below the national minimum wage".

"All employers that are investigated by HMRC and issued with a notice of underpayment will be named under the current scheme: making a mistake is not a good enough reason to avoid being named."

Belfast Telegraph

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