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Many workers still being underpaid

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Around 170,000 workers, a high proportion of them in catering and hotels, are still being paid less than the minimum wage, according to the TUC.

The underpaid were predominantly women, part-time workers, and under-21s, said the TUC. It wants minimum wage protection extended to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Government figures show that since the minimum wage was introduced two years ago, the Inland Revenue has made more than 7,000 visits to employers suspected of not paying the legal minimum rate, issued almost 250 enforcement notices, and recovered over £3m in unpaid wages.

For the year to 31 March 2001, more than 6,041 complaints were made compared with 5,348 last year. In both years the third-highest number of complaints came from hotel and restaurant staff. Enforcement officers react to all complaints received but do not make random spot checks.

Even if underpaid employees are on the books and paying tax and national insurance contributions, the Inland Revenue cannot know about it because employers are not obliged to disclose the number of hours worked.

The rates of the minimum wage went up last week to £4.10 an hour for 22-year-olds and over, and £3.50 for 18- to 21-year-olds.

A spokesman for the British Chamber of Commerce, which represents 135,000 small- to medium-sized businesses, said the rise was the last thing small businesses needed when they were struggling against a downturn in tourism and the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

He said many small businesses would go under during the Christmas period. The chamber’s request to postpone the rise until April was rejected.

Enquiries about the minimum wage can be made by telephoning 0845 6000 678.

by Ben Walker

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