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Minimum Wage/Living Wage

Volume 588: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014

5. What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. (906137)

9. What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. (906142)

16. What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. (906149)

20. What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. (906155)

The Government are taking tough action on employers that break minimum wage law. We have made it simpler to name and shame employers that do not pay the national minimum wage properly, and have increased the financial penalty that employers pay for breaking the law. The Government will always support and encourage businesses to pay higher than the national minimum wage, where they can.

The Sunday Mirror has reported that Greencore, which has a factory in Hull, is recruiting 300 Hungarians to undercut local jobseekers and is resisting a 6p an hour pay increase. It is part of a growing trend of low-paid work that removes people from the official jobless figures, but not from poverty. An estimated 300,000 workers earn less than the national minimum wage. How can Ministers claim to be serious about promoting the living wage, when they fail to enforce the minimum wage properly?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of businesses and employers paying the national minimum wage properly. We absolutely agree. We have invested extra money in enforcement and are helping more employees. Indeed, last year, £4.6 million of arrears was secured for workers who had not been properly paid. We have also increased the penalties and the resources to enforce the penalties, and we are now naming and shaming companies that offend.

Two weeks ago while campaigning in my own constituency for the living wage, I met a mother who told me that her son had been offered part-time work paying just over £2 an hour. With the Office for National Statistics showing yesterday that the proportion of jobs not paying the minimum wage has increased under this Government, does the Minister not regret failing to adopt the proposal from the Opposition to increase the fine for non-payment to £50,000 so that we could have proper enforcement of the minimum wage in this country?

The key is not only increasing the fine to £20,000, but enabling that fine to be levied per worker rather than per employer. The fine, which is of course linked to the amount of arrears, covers all but three cases found over the last year. None of the others would have reached the £20,000 maximum. We will be fining employers more when they break the law, because those responsible employers who abide by the law deserve to know that those who break the law will be properly punished.

Seatruck, which operates domestic ferries between Aberdeen and Lerwick and Ullapool and Stornoway, pays its Estonian national seafarers as little as £3.66 an hour, while it benefits at the same time from the tonnage tax scheme operated by this Government. Is it not about time that we tackled the people who are undermining the national minimum wage, particularly for seafarers, by ensuring that regulations are tough enough to capture this group of people?

The hon. Lady raises the issue of seafarers, which has been raised by other hon. Members. I know that my predecessor, when I was on maternity leave, was dealing with this issue, and we continue to look at it. I reiterate to all hon. Members who have constituents concerned about not being paid the national minimum wage that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will investigate every single complaint made to the pay and work rights helpline on 0800 917 2368. If people will please report instances of where the national minimum wage is not properly being paid, we can investigate and enforce it to ensure that people get what they deserve.

When many large employers are making vast profits but charging the taxpayer by paying their employees the minimum wage, and when families are hit by the cost of living crisis, why will the Minister not follow Labour’s lead and our plans to incentivise employers to pay a living wage through “make work pay” contracts?

I do not think the proposals put forward by the Opposition stack up. Providing only a small incentive for only a 12-month period is unlikely to change behaviour, but it is important to encourage employers to pay more than the minimum wage where they can. It is important that we are cutting income tax by £800 for low and middle earners so that they can keep more of their hard-earned cash. That is why this Government will continue to build the stronger economy we need so that people can properly prosper.