Government refuses to name and shame minimum wage cheats over security fears

Exclusive: Figures reveal 28 companies have successfully kept their identities under wraps after making pleas to ministers

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 21 September 2016 20:42
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Opposition parties and trade unionists have condemned the secrecy and demanded that the Government stands by its pledge to turn the spotlight on illegal low pay
Opposition parties and trade unionists have condemned the secrecy and demanded that the Government stands by its pledge to turn the spotlight on illegal low pay

Ministers are allowing companies that fail to pay the minimum wage to escape being “named and shamed” by claiming they could be attacked.

Rogue employers are exploiting a loophole which says their names can be kept secret if they can show they face “a risk of personal harm”.

The Independent has learned that 20 firms have escaped public shaming in this way since the Government promised to name employers flouting the minimum wage, three years ago.

Opposition parties and trade unionists have condemned the secrecy and demanded that the Government stands by its pledge to turn the spotlight on illegal low pay.

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union said: “This is deeply troubling and requires immediate investigation.

“Companies have been allowed to lurk in the shadows by using these get-out clauses, despite flagrantly ignoring legislation to pay their workers the absolute legal minimum.”

Kevin Brennan, Labour’s former trade spokesman, said: “The public should be told who these firms are. Until that is done, there will inevitably be concerns about why the Government names some and not others.”

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said: “The Government said it should name and shame bad businesses so my challenge to them is this: do what you said you would do.

“Businesses who don’t pay their staff the minimum wage are the ugly face of capitalism.”

Ministers have repeatedly vowed to identify minimum wage cheats, to show that breaking the law has “consequences for their reputation as well as their wallets”.

Last month, when 197 companies were shamed, owing £465,291 in arrears, business minister Margot James said: “We’ll continue to crack down on those who ignore the law, including by naming and shaming them.”

However, a document issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) states there are “exceptional circumstances for not being named under the scheme”.

They include national security and if naming “carries a risk of personal harm to an individual or their family”.

Now a Freedom of Information response to The Independent has revealed that 28 companies have successfully kept their identities under wraps after making pleas to the Government.

All but six of those exemptions were granted because “naming carried a risk of personal harm”.

A spokeswoman for BEIS declined to discuss what evidence companies must produce to win an exemption – whether they had to show there had been a specific threat, for example.

But she defended the policy, saying: “The Government has named nearly 700 employers since October 2013 and continues to crack down on those who fail to pay the National Minimum Wage.

“In all cases where an employer makes representations not to be named, they are required to provide evidence in order to substantiate their application – only 20 per cent of all appeals have been successful.”

The other six firms escaped being shamed because “other factors suggested it would not be in the public interest to name the company” – but with no details given.

Earlier this year, the then-business minister Nick Boles revealed that many bosses were begging not to be named simply because they dreaded the bad publicity.

He told MPs: “Honourable members should see some of the letters I receive from employers trying to persuade me to exclude them from a naming and shaming round.

“They take it very seriously indeed, as they do not want their customers and suppliers – and indeed their neighbours – to know that they have broken the law.”

Among the employers that were named last month were Brighton and Hove Albion and Blackpool football clubs, as well as hotels, care homes, hairdressers and nurseries.

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