The government has been accused of quietly delaying efforts to shame top firms who underpay their workers amid fears Brexit preparations are “sucking the energy out of government”.
High-street names such as Wagamama and Marriott Hotels have been criticised in the past for failing to pay their staff the minimum wage, as part of regular disclosures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
But as the ongoing Brexit crisis engulfs the government, routine reports to “name and shame” offending firms have dried up.
The department has not published a list of offenders since last summer, prompting concern that protecting low-paid workers has “fallen off the government’s to-do list”.
Implementing Brexit has been described as “the biggest, most challenging peacetime task the civil service has faced” by one of the UK’s top civil servants, Tom Meggs, who heads up the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
BEIS has one of the largest Brexit workloads in Whitehall, with the highest number of dedicated work streams in any government department, according to a recent report by the Institute for Government (IfG).
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who uncovered the delay, told The Independent it was “deeply concerning” that the issue has “fallen off the government’s to-do list”.
“The ‘naming and shaming’ scheme was designed to send a loud and clear message to employers who exploit workers with illegal poverty wages that cheating does not pay,” she said.
“If ministers are remotely concerned about addressing some of the very real reasons people voted for Brexit, tackling criminally low pay should be a top priority – not something they drop as departments drown in last-minute preparations.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey also attacked the move as a sign that the government has “given up on governing”.
She said: “While the Tories are consumed by the Brexit mess they have created, other serious issues like this are falling by the wayside.”
And former Lib Dem business secretary Sir Vince Cable said: “This is a disgrace and demonstrates the way that Brexit is sucking all the energy out of government.
“Naming and shaming these organisations is an absolutely crucial weapon in the war against exploitative low pay. But this government clearly doesn’t care.”
Theresa May has previously been accused of shelving a batch of key policies, which include moves to prevent restaurant and bar bosses snatching workers’ tips, to stop residents being “exploited” by ripoff leases or rogue bailiffs and to ban wild animals from circuses.
Other crucial policies on the backburner would use schools to tackle childhood obesity and help women suffering sexual, psychological and violent abuse.
In 2017-18, HMRC took action against more than 1,000 businesses, identifying £15.6m for over 200,000 workers who had been illegally underpaid.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “The enforcement of the National Minimum Wage is a top priority for the department.
“Action has been taken against more than 1,000 businesses for underpaying workers and the budget for National Minimum Wage enforcement was increased from £13.2m to £26.3m between 2015 and 2018.”
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