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National Minimum Wage

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 26 June 2014

13. What resources have been allocated for enforcement action against employers who do not pay the national minimum wage. (904485)

The Government are committed to increasing compliance with minimum wage legislation. Everyone who is entitled to the minimum wage should receive it. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has 173 staff dedicated to enforcing the national minimum wage, and the Government are already taking tougher action on employers who break the law. We have made it simpler to name and shame employers who do not pay the national minimum wage and have increased the financial penalties for breaking the law.

I thank the Minister for her response, but in Corby HMRC found that £120,000 was owed to local workers, and that was just on a three-day visit, so it was the tip of the iceberg and we need to do much more. Will she, in her last days in her role, leave a present for her successor by beginning a review into how local authorities could take a much stronger enforcement role? They currently enforce on planning, parking and environmental health, so why can they not have a role in making the local labour market work for people?

Clearly we feel very strongly that employers should pay the national minimum wage. People working on the minimum wage are, by definition, on the lowest incomes in society, so it is critical that everything is done to ensure that they are paid it. Every complaint that is made to the pay and work rights helpline is investigated, and where arrears are found they are paid back and employers pay a significant penalty. We are happy to work with any part of Government and any organisations that are keen to ensure that the minimum wage is paid. We will ensure that any complaints reported to the pay and work rights helpline are investigated.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), who has always been a very kind and effective Minister, and wish her well in her return to the dark arts of the Government Whips Office. Given that compliment, I am sure that she will wish to agree with me that any sanctions for non-compliance with the national minimum wage are ineffective without proper enforcement. Figures show that since the Government came to power the number of national minimum wage inspections is down by 60%, with only two prosecutions. That is hardly surprising, given that a recent answer she gave to a parliamentary question committed a budget of £9.2 million to enforcement, but the head of the national minimum wage enforcement unit publicly stated only last month that the budget is just £8 million. Just like the Chancellor’s hollow promise to increase the national minimum wage to £7, is this not just another example of the Government failing to stand up for the lowest paid against rogue employers?

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The enforcement action taken by HMRC has significantly increased the number of workers who are getting the wages they are due. Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, there was an increase of over 17% in the number of workers who were helped and were given arrears, and the amount that has been paid back has been increased significantly. In addition, we are increasing fourfold the penalty that employers have to pay, and we now have in place a very draconian naming and shaming scheme. That means that all employers who are found not to have paid the national minimum wage are put forward for naming and shaming, and, unless exceptional circumstances are involved, they will be named publicly. That is acting as a real disincentive to employers not to treat their staff fairly.