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Waterstones among 200 employers exposed for minimum wage failures

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Waterstones book shop
Waterstones book shop

Waterstones and House of Fraser are among a string of companies that have been “named and shamed” by the Government for failing to pay the minimum wage.

A total of 208 firms were found to have underpaid staff by £1.2m in investigations carried out between 2014 and 2019.

This left 12,000 workers out of pocket after businesses either applied wage rules incorrectly, failed to pay them for time spent travelling or training and wrongly docked pay for things such as uniform and food costs.

The companies were ordered to pay their employees what was owed and in some cases faced fines from HM Revenue & Customs as well.

Among those named were Waterstones; House of Fraser; Go-Ahead, the bus operator; recruiter Hays; Schuh, the shoe retailer; the outsourcing giant Mitie; and Pendragon, the car dealerships chain.

Paul Scully, the small business minister, said: “We want workers to know that we’re on their side and they must be treated fairly by their employers, which is why paying the legal minimum wage should be non-negotiable for businesses.

“Today’s 208 businesses, whatever their size, should know better than to short-change hard-working employees, regardless of whether it was intentional or not.

“With Christmas fast approaching, it’s more important than ever that cash is not withheld from the pockets of workers. So don’t be a scrooge – pay your staff properly.”

Waterstones, which was bought by Wall Street hedge fund Elliott in 2018, failed to pay £8,689 to 58 workers - an average of about £150 per person - according to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

James Daunt, chief executive of Waterstones, said the firm's breach was "a technical one" that sprung unintentionally from a salary salary sacrifice scheme between 2016 to 2018.

"It was remedied immediately after it was identified. Salary sacrifice schemes are to the advantage of the employee and there was no intention that this cause pay technically to fall below the minimum wage," he added.

Meanwhile, House of Fraser failed to pay a total of £16,235 to 354 workers.

Mitie failed to pay a total of £17,894 to 91 workers, while Go-Ahead owed £16,317 to 101.

Hays was found to have failed to pay 450 workers a total £8,988 and Schuh failed to pay £807 to 39 workers.

Pendragon owed £779 to one staff member.

A House of Fraser spokesman said the breaches of law had happened at the business before it was bought out of administration by Frasers Group, formerly known as Sports Direct International.

The spokesman said: “These breaches are historic and relate to the activities of the old House of Fraser company that is now in administration and is nothing at all to do with any activities of the new House of Fraser business that is owned by Frasers Group.

Hays said: “We understand our obligation to comply with legislation and pay our temps on assignment their entitlement, and we take it very seriously. The underpayment was wholly unintentional and wasn’t widespread.

“We paid around 200,000 temps during this period and this relates to a very small number who were underpaid by a small amount due to an isolated administrative error. As soon as the issue was identified in 2018 the correct rate was applied, workers were immediately reimbursed, and they were satisfied that we had resolved the matter quickly. We now have checks in place to ensure any rate changes take place automatically and that it won’t happen again.”

Mitie said: “HMRC accept this was a technical breach, so we are disappointed to have been included on this list.”

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