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The Department for Business (BEIS) has publicly released a list of 191 firms, including John Lewis Partnership, it says have failed to meet their obligations to employees. Companies including coffee shop chain Pret A Manger and Sheffield United Football Club are said to have collectively short-changed over 34,000 workers by £2.1million from 2011 to 2018. BEIS said the near-200 companies on the released list have since been forced to pay back what they owed by HM Revenue and Customs, and were hit with an additional fine of £3.2million.
But JLP has hit back at being included on the list, arguing it had acted in the best interests of its employees over an issue from 2017 that concerned difficulty in implementing new pay rules.
The partnership said at that time it had set aside several millions of pounds as a precaution and was working with HMRC to ensure monies was quickly paid to impacted workers.
Overall, a total of £950,000 was paid back to partners.
But Sky News has revealed a source close to JLP suggested there was increasing fury over its inclusion on the list and demanded the system be changed.
John Lewis Partnership is furious at being included on a list for flouting minimum wage rules
JLP insisted it had acted in the best interests of its employees over an issue from 2017
The report added those behind the list felt JLP should be on there due to a host of failures, including in relation to pay deductions for uniform.
A JLP spokesperson said: “We’re surprised and disappointed that BEIS has chosen to report this today.
“This was a technical breach that happened four years ago, has been fixed and which we ourselves made public at the time.
“The issue arose because the partnership smooths pay so that partners with variable pay get the same amount each month, helping them to budget.
JLP hit back after being included on the released list
“Our average minimum hourly pay has never been below the national minimum wage and is currently 15 percent above it.”
Most of the firms on the new list released by BEISS are small companies, such as child nursery providers and hotels.
A spokesperson for Pret A Manger insisted its inclusion, for an underpayment of almost £10,000, was because of a historic mistake over the interpretation of salary sacrifice for childcare vouchers, and moved to quickly resolve the issue.
Sheffield United Football Club had failed to pay back nearly £22,000 to 25 employees in 2018 but also insisted it had quickly reimbursed impacted workers as soon as it was made aware.
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Pret A Manger insisted its inclusion on the list was because of a historical mistake
Sheffield United insisted it had quickly reimbursed impacted workers as soon as it was made aware
The publication of these lists was stopped in 2018 after the “naming and shaming” scheme – designed to act as a deterrent to inappropriate minimum wage practices.
But last year it was resumed after several changes were made to its methodology, including a rise in the threshold for a company to be publicly identified, with BEIS insisting the review of the scheme ensures the “Government calls out cases of abuse”.
Despite the latest backlash to this, Downing Street is standing firm on the issue, insisting it is the responsibility of every employer to comply with the law.
Business minister Paul Scully said: “Our minimum wage laws are there to ensure a fair day’s work gets a fair day’s pay – it is unacceptable for any company to come up short.
“All employers, including those on this list, need to pay workers properly.
“This Government will continue to protect workers’ rights vigilantly, and employers that short-change workers won’t get off lightly.”
But Labour has lashed out at the Government, accusing ministers of failing to protect low-paid workers.
Shadow employment rights and protections secretary Andy McDonald said: “Just six employers have been prosecuted for paying employees less than the minimum wage in the last six years despite more than 6,500 breaches having been found.
“Laws protecting workers aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they are not enforced, but weak employment rights and a lack of enforcement action leaves too many working people vulnerable to this exploitation.”