Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Firms must abide by minimum wage law

Editor's Viewpoint

When the national minimum wage was introduced in 1999 there were an estimated 1.9m workers in the UK earning less than the modest initial rate of £3.60. Many businesses and the Tory Party opposed the introduction of the minimum wage arguing that it would lead to job losses - an argument which has since proved to be spurious.

What the legislation did was ensure that firms paid workers something approaching a living wage, and one which made work a more attractive option than living on benefits.

It is encouraging that HM Revenue and Customs continue to police the paying of the minimum wage with diligence, and which, according to its latest report, found that 179 companies throughout the UK had failed to meet their legal obligations. Not only had the companies to ensure that the 9,000 workers affected were paid the money owed to them but the companies were also fined a total of £1.3m.

Eight companies in Northern Ireland were found to have breached the rules but it is evident from the figures quoted that, in most cases, the sums of money owed to workers was relatively small. However, in one case the company had been guilty of underpaying some staff for six years. A senior executive said the error was innocent and unintended.

Firms may argue that problems keeping wages systems up to date - payments are dependent on age - can lead to some staff being underpaid but the legislation has been in place for nearly two decades and it is incumbent on firms to ensure that they abide by the rules.

After all, if they do not they face a double whammy of paying the money owed and also paying a fine to HMRC.

In the latest report, the worst offending sectors were hospitality, hairdressing and retail, traditionally low-paid occupations. It was to combat the pay rates in these sectors, among others, which led to the introduction of the national minimum wage.

No one can deny that all employees deserve to be treated with dignity, and that includes the remuneration due to them. That applies even in sectors where profit margins are tight and any breaches of the minimum wage legislation should be clamped down on.

It is embarrassing for companies to be named and shamed - especially if they have defensible reasons for their breaches of the legislation. However, that should encourage them to redouble their efforts to abide by the law.

Belfast Telegraph

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