`No one had the guts to complain . . . they don't want to get the sack'

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a thin veneer of authenticity about Atta Butt's small brown pay packets. A grid was pre- printed on each, allowing his employer to document how the contents had been calculated from hours worked, deductions, and sickness.

The grids were never filled in. The only word on the dockets, which Mr Butt has kept, is "Atta", penned in an almost unintelligible scribble. It confirmed that there really was no mistake - this sum was his pathetic remuneration for the hours he had worked at a knitwear factory in Ancoats, Manchester.

Mr Butt's employers dared not annotate his pay packets. They ran the risk of illustrating that they were paying him just pounds 2.50 an hour, pounds 1.10 less than the statutory minimum.

The contents of each pay packet were a lottery, said Mr Butt, who spoke through an interpreter.

"It could be pounds 70, it could be pounds 80 inside. I would think, `That can't be right'. I took two weeks' holiday in March and then it was said that holiday pay didn't exist. On some documentation, the employer wrote pounds 3.60 per hour. He paid some to me and kept the rest."

When he challenged Abdul Salam, owner of the Euro Fashions factory, he was told to accept the money or find a job somewhere else. He quit in May. "I told them I don't work for wages like that," he said.

Last month, Mr Butt took Euro Fashions to an industrial tribunal and won his case. Mr Salam was ordered to pay back the pounds 1.10 difference to 36-year-old Mr Butt and compensate him with pounds 3.60 an hour for the three months when he was subsequently unemployed. Mr Butt is unsure of the compensation he is entitled to, but thinks it should be in the region of pounds 1,300.

At the industrial tribunal there were allegations that the firm - which occupies the large ground floor of a corner building in a rundown district of neglected and derelict Victorian warehouses - had also destroyed clock cards to remove evidence of the long hours that Mr Butt was required to work.

As a fabric cutter working at a long bench, he was on his feet throughout the day and - while pre-Christmas demand was high - well into the night. He was permitted two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour lunch break each day.

He had been attracted to Euro Fashions because of its exclusively Asian workforce - he spoke little English and found out about the minimum wage through a Radio Asia broadcast.

"Nobody had the guts to go up and talk about the money," Mr Butt said. "They say a lot of things among themselves but don't want to get the sack."

Mr Salam has declined to comment on the case but Martin Rathfelder, a community worker who helped to bring Mr Butt's case to a tribunal, said: "I never came across anybody in one of these city centre factories who speaks good English and that is an obvious barrier to good working conditions."