Enforcement of the national minimum wage must be continuously improved in order to combat those employers who are actively trying to find ways not to pay their workers properly, says a new report published today by the TUC.

Enforcing the National Minimum Wage – Keeping up the Pressure says that whilst most employers are happy to pay up, a minority have developed a wide range of scams, including under-recording hours, bogus self-employment, misusing interns and volunteers, charging for uniforms, not paying for travel between work sites during the working day, clocking workers off when there are no customers in the store or cafe, and employers vanishing to avoid minimum wage fines only to reappear under another name.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Failing to pay the minimum wage is an antisocial act that squeezes those workers who have the least. There should be no hiding place for cheapskate bosses who try to cheat their workers out of the minimum wage.”

Apprentices are particularly likely to be underpaid, with a recent government survey suggesting that 120,000 are paid less than the relevant minimum wage rate.

O’Grady continued:

“We must engage in a constant battle to ensure that every worker gets at least the minimum. It is clear that some employers are actively looking for new ways not to pay even the legal minimum.”

The TUC plan outlines a 10-point programme of continuous improvement during the next parliament:

  • Restore the budget for raising awareness about the minimum wage to £1 million.
  • Hire 100 more HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) enforcement officers
  • Better official guidance on the minimum wage so that employers know their responsibilities.
  • Create legal gateways so that HMRC can share information about enforcement with local authorities and the transport regulatory authorities
  • Name and shame all non-payers.
  • Government to guarantee arrears if employer goes bankrupt or simply vanishes.
  • Adopt a prosecution strategy targeted towards the worst offenders and increase maximum fine from £5,000 to £75,000.
  • More targeted enforcement for high-risk sectors.
  • Make government funding for training apprentices dependent on employers paying the minimum wage, and create a duty for training providers to check that the minimum wage is paid.
  • Promote collective bargaining so that trade unions can deal with more minimum wage problems themselves.

The TUC report also identifies ten groups of workers who are particularly at risk of underpayment: apprentices, migrant workers, domestic workers, interns and bogus volunteers, false self-employment, zero-hours contracts including temporary agency workers, social care, workers whose accommodation is dependent on their job, seafarers, and umbrella employment schemes.

Frances O’Grady added:

“There should be a broad consensus between political parties, good employers and trade unions that the minimum wage must always be enforced effectively. We urge everyone to support the TUC’s plan for ensuring continuous improvement to the minimum wage system.”

The minimum wage, introduced in 1999, enjoys support from business leaders and trade unions alike and is a matter of political consensus. But the report estimates that at least 250,000 workers are not being paid the legal minimum wage.