Earlier in the year Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations at the Department for Business, released a stern press release in which she declared that: “Paying less than the minimum wage is totally unacceptable.”
This accompanied a story from HMRC which detailed a £4 million pound combined pay out to workers denied the minimum wage by unscrupulous employers. Several of those compensated had been working as unpaid interns, the latest fad amongst some employers keen to avoid paying young people a wage. HMRC have announced that they are fast-tracking investigations into this form of unpaid labour:
“Anyone who believes they are not being paid the National Minimum Wage can call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368. Calls to the helpline from interns, who are working for nothing or for “expenses only”, are being fast-tracked to HMRC enforcement officers for investigation.”
Yet if Jo Swinson wants to track down businesses breaking minimum wage laws then perhaps the first place to look would be the Government’s own Universal Jobmatch website. This is the website which unemployed people are increasingly forced to sign up for as a condition of receiving benefits and which is riddled with scams, spoofs, sex work and dubious self-employment vacancies.
Nestled alongside the adverts for lap dancers and Mafia drug couriers, the website features a whole host of unpaid work. Those who are prepared to work for a daily lunch allowance can have the privilege of working full time for this recruitment agency as a ‘volunteer’. Astonishingly they even expect applicants for this unpaid role to have “previous sales or recruitment experience”.
Other opportunities for people to line the pockets of bosses by working for free include a role at Mansion Estates, London. This involves working six days a week propping up the profits of an estate agents and ‘may’ even lead to a real job. It is unclear whether this role is unpaid, or whether it attracts the £500 a month salary listed in the side bar. Either way it breaches minimum wage laws. Another London estate agent is also on the look out for free workers. Simple E14 Ltd are keen to recruit a ‘voluntary receptionist’.
Some of the unpaid work advertised on Universal Jobmatch may be legal, but only if it is part of a recognised Government scheme. So this position, as an unpaid office volunteer with Aquaseal,seems to be part of the Work Experience scheme and is likely to be legal. This one however, ten weeks unpaid work for the law firm Adonai Beulah Solicitors, seems to be completely illegal. You’d think a bunch of solicitors might know better.
Another exciting opportunity is this vacancy advertised by firstname.lastname@example.org who wants people to spend the Summer working without pay answering the phone, filing and ‘mainly data entry’. Be prepared to work hard for no wages, the company warn: “You will be set daily targets to meet and be expected to reach that target.”
According to Jo Swinson: “Whenever we find examples of businesses breaking the law we will crack down on them.”
Perhaps she should have a word with Iain Duncan Smith who seems to be aiding and abetting employers who break minimum wage laws on a national scale. It is not just unpaid workers who are being ripped off by these companies. The tax payer is paying benefits to fund these unpaid workers whilst the companies are dodging the National Insurance they would have to pay were these workers on wages. The renegade DWP is making a mockery of the minimum wage laws, and we are all paying the cost.
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