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The High Street Hall of Shame: All The Companies Ripping off Their Employees Over the Living Wage

April 18, 2016, 2:47pm
Camden High Street (Photo: Soupspoon, via Wikimedia)

If you haven't noticed your flatmates' vacuum-packed pound of SuperValu bacon in the fridge, or those cracks that appear above your parents' smiles as you start opening up about your newest "project", generation woke is broke. You have less money than your parents and your grandparents did. You're essentially Oliver Twist, sooty-faced and starving, cradling your iBowl and tweeting for more.

When the government confirmed in January that from April 1st workers aged 25 and over would legally be entitled to a higher wage, it should have been good news. Your £6.70 an hour salary would increase to £7.66. That's 94p extra – enough to buy a Dandelion & Burdock and a Chomp every hour.

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But some employees, predominantly from the retail sector, are bent on thwarting your new heady lifestyle. Yes, they've agreed to pay the new rate – they have to – but they're taking it out of basic employee benefits like holiday pay, lunch break pay, summer and winter bonuses. So here they are, in our high street hall of shame. We'll keep adding to the list as more get announced.

Who are they? B&Q
What do they sell? WD40, gardening stuff, and the doctrine of DIY.
Why are they bad?

B&Q's reaction to the introduction of the National Living Wage was to remove the practice of paying time and a half for Sundays, reduce bank holiday pay from double-time to time and a half, scrap summer and winter bonuses for some staff, and restructure allowances for working in expensive parts of the UK.

Its 27,000 employees were reportedly (http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/bq-accused-bullying-staff-new-7577505) given the chance to sign up to these changes by March 24th or face losing their jobs. In response, one employee got 136,000 people to sign a petition against the chain's plans (https://www.change.org/p/don-t-use-living-wage-as-excuse-to-cut-pay-benefits?tk=-IqBSZsvMWk_bIN2VtsnW1dbrA1THyEg8MPAkxYqLfc&utm_source=petition_update&utm_medium=email).

While subsequent statements defended the changes and emphasised "commitment to employees and their future", news emerged that B&Q had started advertising for new jobs at its Swindon warehouse (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/10/b-and-q-job-advert-three-days-unpaid-induction-swindon). The job would require employees to work three days "induction" for free and to pay for a £15 drug test on top of that. Because nothing says 'welcome to the family' like unpaid labour and a piss test.

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The ad has since been taken down.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY FOR THEMSELVES?

Quite a lot actually. After considered pressure from employees, the media and MP Siobhain McDonagh, the company have refused to reverse any changes. Instead, it's come up with a plan to extend employee compensation for the changes to two years.

In a lengthy statement, a B&Q spokesperson said that the company raised basic pay to a minimum rate of £7.66 an hour from 1 April – 46p more than the national living wage. " For our business to be successful it is very important to us that our colleagues are paid well, consistently and in a way which rewards performance, and this is reflected in the new pay and reward structure that came into effect on 1 April 2016…Over the next two years, we will continue to work with our colleagues to look at ways we can enhance our overall reward package to ensure we remain one of the best and most attractive employers in retail."

WHO ARE THEY?

Caffe Nero

WHAT DO THEY SELL?

Coffee. In fact, it was once said by Tatler that they serve 'the best coffee outside of Milan'. Now they're just the best place to charge your phone while you're waiting for a connecting train in Stevenage.

WHY ARE THEY BAD BASTARDS?

One of the small perks offered to staff members serving hot drinks all day was the £4 panini provided for their lunch. But this month, each of its 4,500 UK employees received a letter informing them that, in order to adhere to the new minimum wage, they'd no longer be entitled to that or any lunch.

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WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY FOR THEMSELVES?

"The introduction of a new National Living Wage is a huge potential cost to the business, but also a great opportunity to review pay, and reward employees for their investment in Caffè Nero," a spokesperson from Caffe Nero said. "From 11 April, all current employees, regardless of their age, will be moved to at least the new National Living Wage if currently below it. Alongside this investment, all current employees will continue to receive paid breaks and a substantial discount on food and drink bought when on shift."

WHO ARE THEY?

EAT

WHAT DO THEY SELL?

Food. Authentic, traditional, rustic, homemade, modern, freshly-baked food with a side of something smashed. Smashed avocado on toast with feta, beef ragu with a smashed blend of hearty Italian herbs, smashed potato. Smashing.

WHY ARE THEY BAD BASTARDS?

The company decided that it would stop paying staff for their legally-required 30-minute lunch break. Across all of its 118 UK food outlets, the move would save EAT £3.60 per employee, per shift. That's just a good quid-and-a-half short of a Korean chicken and pickled slaw hot pot.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY FOR THEMSELVES?

"It's legal requirement to have a break if working a shift over five hours," an EAT spokesperson said. "95 percent percent of our employees enjoy a pay rate in excess of the £7.20 living wage. The average hourly rate in EAT is now £7.60 per hour, some margin above the living wage rate set by the government."

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"In addition, all of our employees also get a free lunch every day that they work, as much free tea and coffee as they want, and the opportunity to earn more through bonuses and incentives."

WHO ARE THEY?

Waitrose.

WHAT DO THEY SELL?

A vision of the future designed in a lab by Godfrey Baseley, otherwise known for creating The Archers. Good produce. Nice wine. The best lunchtime gamble for anybody who knows what Tarragon is.

WHY ARE THEY BAD BASTARDS?

Waitrose are perhaps the most surprising bastion of the bastard brigade. It is part of the John Lewis Partnership and the business is owned by the staff, so you'd think that they'd stand firm amongst all of the dashing of employee benefits. Well you'd be wrong. Despite previously awarding some workers with double pay on Sundays, the supermarket has decided to stop paying Sunday and overtime rates to all new workers. So yes, they're one big Corleone family, they're just going to make you do sordid things to become part of it.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY FOR THEMSELVES?

"Changes to premium pay for new starters is separate to national living wage implementation and was planned before the living wage was announced." A spokesperson for Waitrose argues, claiming that the changes have been made to bring them in line with competitors.

WHO ARE THEY?

Wilkinsons

WHAT DO THEY SELL?

The "day out with Nan" 1997 shopping experience, all at a discount price.

WHY ARE THEY BAD BASTARDS?

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Wilkinson's 18,000 staff will be lifting their heads from their champagne flutes this month when they find out if that time-and-a-half or double time they get if they work Sundays, Bank Holidays, unsocial hours, nightshifts or more than 39 hours will be slahed to just £1.50 extra per hour. And that's just lowly shopfloor workers, as unlucky executives and managers are "not currently in the scope of these discussions".

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO SAY FOR THEMSELVES?

"Some of the increases will be offset by the removal of the majority of our current premium payments. The remaining cost will reduce profits, demonstrating our commitment to investing in team member's pay and benefits."

Wilko says that 11,339 of its team members would be better off and 7,922 worse off from the changes.

"Our team members play a crucial part in our continuing success and our aim is to protect Wilko and our team members. This will also enable us to retain and recruit the right talent and improve our ways of working to deliver the best possible customer experience. We'll be keeping our team members informed as the process continues."