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

The introduction of a national living wage should have been a good thing, but some bad bastard employers on the high street are using it as an excuse to cut benefits. Here they are, rounded up, for you to ogle at.

by Oobah Butler
18 April 2016, 2:47pm

Camden High Street (Photo: Soupspoon, via Wikimedia)

Generation woke is broke. You have less money than your parents and your grandparents did. You'll probably never buy a house. And you're definitely fucked if you're even thinking about a state pension. So it should have been good news when the government confirmed in January that, from the 1st of April, workers aged 25 and over would legally be entitled to a higher wage. Your £6.70 an hour salary would increase to £7.20. That's 50p extra – enough to buy a boiled sweet and a Chomp every hour.

But some employers, predominantly from the retail sector, are bent on thwarting your new heady lifestyle. Yes, they've agreed to pay the new rate – because they legally have to – but they're making up the difference by cutting down on basic employee benefits like holiday pay, lunch breaks and bonuses.

So who are these employers? To make it easy to keep track, we've listed them here, in our high street hall of shame. We'll keep adding to the list as more get announced.

B&Q Grimsby. Photo via Wikimedia.

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 given the chance to sign up to these changes by the 24th of March or face losing their jobs. In response, one employee got 136,000 people to sign a petition against the chain's plans.

As subsequent statements defended the changes and emphasised "commitment to employees and their future", it emerged that B&Q had started advertising for new jobs at its Swindon warehouse. 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.

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 Labour 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 the 1st of April – 46p more than the national living wage. It added: "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."


A Caffè Nero branch in Sutton, Surrey. Photo via Wikimedia.

Who are they?
Caffè 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 the best place to charge your phone while you're waiting for a connecting train in Stevenage.

Why are they bad?
One of the small perks offered to staff members serving 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.

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 told BBC Newsbeat. "From the 11th of 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."


An EAT branch on Charing Cross Road, London. Photo via Wikimedia.

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?

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 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 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. 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."

Waitrose in Cheadle Hulme. Photo via Wikimedia.

Who are they?
Waitrose.

What do they sell?
Quality produce. Nice wine. The best lunchtime gamble for anybody who knows what samphire is.

Why are they bad?
For a supermarket chain who have built their entire brand image on being a bastion of ethical consumerism, Waitrose is the most shocking addition to this list. As part of the John Lewis Partnership, the business is owned by its staff. But that hasn't stopped them from axing double pay on Sundays for new starters.

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 told Sky News, insisting that the changes have been made to bring them in line with competitors.


Wilko, Huddersfield. Photo via Wikimedia.

Who are they?
Wilko.

What do they sell?
The "day out with your Nan in 1997" shopping experience, all at a discount price.

Why are they bad?
Wilko's 18,000 staff are reportedly waiting to find out if the 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 slashed to just £1.50 extra per hour. It only applies to shop floor workers, though. Executives and managers are "not currently in the scope of these discussions".

What do they have to say for themselves?
According to a document seen by This Is Money, 11,339 employees 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," a spokesperson said. "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."

More from VICE:

Meet the Topshop Cleaners Fighting for the London Living Wage

Things I Learned Working Every Minimum Wage Job in the UK

Companies Are Celebrating the New Living Wage By Finding Ways to Not Pay People