The hospitality industry has rallied behind Government proposals to introduce tougher-than-expected penalties on employers paying staff below the national minimum wage.
The proposals, opened for consultation last week, could see rogue employers fined anything up to £5,000 for not paying the minimum wage.
Industry leaders welcomed the tough stance. Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association called for a "name and shame" campaign. "People should be paying the minimum wage," he said. "We cannot in any shape or form support anyone paying less than that and if people are not doing that they should be fined."
He added that any employer paying below the minimum wage "does the industry and good employers a disservice, especially at a time when we are trying to encourage people into our industry".
Michael Hirst, chairman of the Business Tourism Partnership, agreed. "I don't think any properly run business should be paying less than the minimum wage, so if penalties are higher than originally expected so be it," he said. "The move also acts as a deterrent to those who insist on paying below the minimum wage."
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the T&G union, also welcomed the tougher sanctions, but he warned that more resources should be put towards enforcing the minimum wage.
"The single biggest issue in workplaces today is the ability of employers to discriminate against agency workers, and until the Government legislates to ensure equal treatment the ‘race to the bottom' will continue," he said.
Martin Warren, head of employment at law firm Eversheds, warned: "Food, leisure and catering businesses that persist in ignoring the legislation should be in no doubt that, if discovered, harsh penalties and fines will follow."
Tough proposals on Minimum wage
Last week Government proposals requiring employers who underpay staff to repay interest or other cash owed to workers in arrears were opened for consultation. If they refuse to pay the increased wage or make the required back-payments, employers could then face a fine of more than £200 and risk prosecution, leading to a criminal record and a £5,000 fine. From 2005-06, the UK's official figures show that 25,314 workers were underpaid, a total arrears of £3.29m. This figure was up 14,053 from the previous year.
• There are three levels of minimum wage. The current rates are: £5.35 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older a development rate of £4.45 per hour for workers aged 18-21 and £3.30 per hour for all workers under the age of 18, who are no longer of compulsory school age.
By Emily Manson & Daniel Thomas
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