Burger chain urged to pay compensation

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The Labour Party yesterday wrote to the fast-food chain Burger King demanding compensation for employees on "zero-hours contracts" and accused a government minister of lying over low pay.

Ian McCartney, Labour's employment spokesman urged the burger chain's management to offer back pay to a 17-year-old Glasgow student who was told to clock off during slack periods and hang around unpaid until custom picked up. As part of the payment system, now ended by the company, he often received pounds 1 for a five-hour shift

In a letter to Nelson Marchioli, a senior vice president of Burger King, Mr McCartney said the student's experience seemed to be "the tip of the iceberg" and asked if all workers employed on a similar basis would receive back pay.

Mr Marchioli was asked if he was prepared to ensure "proper rights" for part-time workers, to include "individual employment contracts which clearly stipulated that they will be paid for all hours on which they are present on the premises". The company said last night that it was considering a reply.

Meanwhile, Labour yesterday accused a government minister of lying over the impact of the abolition of wages councils which set statutory pay rates for 2.5 million workers.

Claims by Phillip Oppenheim, a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, that employment had increased and pay had risen faster than average in the former wage-council sectors amounted to "a pack of lies", according to Harriet Harman, Labour's employment spokeswoman.

She said no jobs had been created and evidence showed that wages for the lowest paid had fallen since the councils were wound up in 1993.

Ms Harman said the minister's contentions about earnings was based on data referring to full-time workers who only made up around 20 per cent of the employees concerned. In any case the figures used by Mr Oppenheim were inaccurate, according to analysis of official statistics conducted by Usdaw, the shopworkers' union.

A proper matched comparison showed that the earnings of the full-timers had risen by 3.7 per cent since abolition compared with 4.8 per cent for workers in general.

A Labour report, Minimum Wage, Learning the Lessons of the Wages Councils, found that hourly earnings for part-timers rose by 3.2 per cent compared to 1.5 per cent for those whose jobs were once covered by statutory minima.

Research by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, found that despite Conservative claims employment had not increased in wages council sectors.

Mr Oppenheim did not take issue with the fact that he had only included full-timers in his calculations of pay, but argued that the examples of low wages used by Labour were unfilled vacancies which may never be taken because of the rates offered. He said the figures for jobs used by the LSE did not take into account changes in industrial classifications. The truth was that employment had risen.