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Argos, Buzz Bingo and Chanel among fines for minimum wage violations

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Well known retailers were named and shamed by the government list of employers who were fined for minimum wage breaches between 2017 and 2019.

The list, published by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), names 202 employers, with a total of almost £5 million in underpayments. 

The firms have since repaid what they owe and faced fines amounting to nearly £7 million. 


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Minister for enterprise, markets and small business Kevin Hollinrake said not all the minimum wage underpayments are intentional, but there is no excuse for underpaying workers. 

He said: “Paying the legal minimum wage is non-negotiable and all businesses, whatever their size, should know better than to short-change hard-working staff. 

“Most businesses do the right thing and look after their employees, but we’re sending a clear message to the minority who ignore the law: pay your staff properly or you’ll face the consequences.” 

Of the named employers, 39% deducted pay from workers’ wages, 39% of employers failed to pay workers correctly for their working time and 21% of employers paid the incorrect apprenticeship rate. 

Argos, which is now owned by Sainsbury’s, had the fourth biggest underpayment. 

Speaking to HR magazine, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said, “Back in 2018, a payroll error was identified which affected some Argos store colleagues and drivers and dated back to 2012 – before Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos.  

“We launched an immediate investigation, working alongside HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and put this right at the time. 

“Since then we have completed the integration of Argos onto Sainsbury’s systems which will prevent this from happening again.  

“Since acquiring Argos, we have made significant investment into colleague pay and the Argos colleague hourly rate is now aligned with Sainsbury’s, representing an average increase of 53% over the last seven years.” 

Other underpayments occurred indirectly. 

Buzz Bingo, which was fifth on the list, said its mispayment was due to uniform policies. 

Speaking to HR magazine, a Buzz Bingo spokesperson said: “We have always paid national minimum wage or above so when these matters came to light five years ago, we immediately took steps to revise our time recording technology and our staff uniform policies so the issues raised cannot be repeated.  

“We would never intentionally short-change our hard-working team and we apologised in 2018 to all colleagues affected and immediately reimbursed them for any losses.”   

Julie Moore, tax partner, at accounting company RSM UK said the list could damage the reputation or underpaying employers even if the underpayment was unintentional. 

She said: “Whilst it is now more widely understood that breaches of the National Minimum Wage are commonly due to technicalities rather than a deliberate intention to underpay workers, the headlines that go with the publication of the list could be reputationally damaging to employers and cause disruption in their workforce. 

“Where an employer has minimal or unclear communications with their workforce around the breaches, there is a risk that an employee could reach out to ACAS or HMRC to query how their pay is calculated, resulting in a further time consuming investigation.” 

The 10 employers with the biggest violations were: 

  1. WH Smith – underpaid £1,017,693.36 to 17,607 workers 
  2. Lloyds Pharmacy – underpaid £903,307.47 to 7,916 workers 
  3. Marks and Spencer – underpaid £578,390.79 to 5,363 workers 
  4. Argos – underpaid £480,093.58 to 10,399 workers 
  5. Buzz Group – underpaid £319,297.21 to 3,448 workers 
  6. Baxterstoreyunderpaid £185,242.24 to 2,166 workers 
  7. McNicholas Construction Services – underpaid £170,517.57 to 704 workers 
  8. Showsec International – underpaid £107,835.49 to 5,574 workers 
  9. Brunning and Price – underpaid £98,675.37 to 1,500 workers 
  10. Chanel – underpaid £70,413.59 to 250 workers 

 

HMRC has set up a dedicated portal to help employees check their pay.  

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