Inspectors raid slave wages factory raided

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GOVERNMENT inspectors have raided an electronics factory in Scotland which is believed to be paying temporary workers from Thailand just 96 pence per hour.

The Chicony Electronics plant, which makes keyboards for IBM computers, came under investigation as The Independent revealed widespread abuse of the United Kingdom pounds 3.60 per hour minimum wage. Today, Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will promise to "name and shame" companies which flout the legal minimum, introduced in April.

Inspectors from the Inland Revenue, responsible for overseeing the pay rules, visited the Chicony factory in Greenock, Strathclyde, last week. The plant, which employs 300 workers, says its foreign quality controllers are receiving Thai wages rather than British ones. Inspectors were promised that any outstanding wages would be paid. However, Chicony was being given extra time to produce details of pay because its headquarters had been damaged in last week's Taiwan earthquake.

One former employee claimed that while Scottish workers received pounds 4.60 per hour, the Thai workers received far less. Jim Cox, a former production controller for Chicony, believed the Thais worked six 12-hour shifts each week while Scots worked three.

"It's still going on - I have spoken to people there recently," he said. "I am led to believe they receive very low wages. It isn't fair to the local people because they are getting done out of their jobs."

The foreign workers, mostly young women, socialised little with others at the plant due to cultural differences. They were chaperoned to and from work and all lived together in accommodation in nearby Gourock. Chris Pilling, production manager at the factory, said this was due to fears for their safety following threats from locals.

At the moment, there are five Thai workers at the plant, although there have been as many as a dozen. Mr Pilling said they received travel and living expenses while they were here and were paid their normal wages into their Thai banks.

Mr Byers will tell the Labour conference in Bournemouth that while most companies have complied with the minimum wage, the "rump" which have not done so must expect action to be taken against them.

"The national minimum wage must be fully and effectively enforced. I will issue this warning to employers: those who fail to pay the minimum will be identified as the Scrooge employers they are," he will say.

Government sources say that while they believe the minimum wage has worked very well so far, a hard-core "rump" of companies is still resisting. Now is the time to start applying pressure, they say.

An investigation by The Independent revealed this week that UK factories making goods for high-street shops were still failing to pay the pounds 3.60 hourly rate. In one factory in Leicester, the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Allied Trades made contact with a worker earning just pounds 1.50 per hour.

No one from IBM was available for comment.

Inside the factory, page 6

Letters, Review, page 2