A Government crackdown targeting hotels flouting the national minimum wage started with a whimper, with fewer than 30 employers visited in the first six months of the year-long campaign, Caterer has learnt.
According to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has visited just 27 employers since the launch on 1 July, while the main enforcement activity of the minimum wage payment crackdown didn't start until December. HMRC said that in 2008, "resources permitting", a further 500 employers would be visited.
West London Citizens, the campaign group that revealed that agency staff were being paid less than the minimum wage at Hilton hotels in London (Caterer, 1 November, page 7), said it was "seriously concerned" at the lack of progress.
Catherine Howarth, lead organiser, said: "We believe a robust inspection regime could be very effective in addressing non-payment of minimum wage but it's hard to see why vulnerable workers in the industry should have much faith in the Government's commitment to strong enforcement."
Dave Turnbull, regional organiser at the Unite union, said the HMRC must put its money where its mouth is. "If HMRC is serious about enforcing the minimum wage in the hotel sector there need to be efficient resources to tackle employment agencies and regional employers," he said. "Large, national employers, in the main, are going to be complying with the legislation."
Professor Chris Warhurst, director of the Scottish centre for employment research at Strathclyde University, agreed. "The hotel industry in the UK has the lowest union density of any sector at 4%, compared to the national average of 29%," he said. "The state has to fill the union gap but the question is, do they have the adequate resources for enforcement?"
Minimum wage campaign
The targeting of the hotel sector by HM Revenue & Customs was intended to kick-start a wider campaign enforcing payment of the minimum wage in the hospitality sector, including restaurants and pubs, during 2008.
The campaign began with a direct mail-out to hotel employers, informing them about minimum wage rules and urging them to rectify any problems before inspection.
Those flouting the law risk criminal prosecution and fines of up to £5,000. There are three levels of minimum wage, starting at £5.52 per hour for people aged 22 and over, £4.60 per hour for 18- to 21-year-olds and £3.40 per hour for 16- to 17-year-olds.
By Christopher Walton
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