John Lewis Partnership has been named at the top of a government-backed list of almost 200 businesses that breached minimum wage laws between 2011 and 2018.
The firm, which runs the upmarket Waitrose supermarket chain as well as John Lewis department stores, was among 191 businesses that ranged from retailers to football clubs that were named and shamed by Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The BEIS said total of £2.1 million was found to be owed to more than 34,000 workers following investigations by HMRC dating back to 2011.
Named employers have been made to pay back what they owed, and were fined an additional £3.2 million.
John Lewis Partnership was accused of underpaying nearly 20,000 staff by a total of £941,356, or just under £49 each – the highest of any business named.
The retail giant said it was “surprised and disappointed” to be on the list.
According to The Telegraph, the partnership’s bosses were reportedly furious to learn of the public shaming by the government over something that was resolved years ago.
“This was a technical breach that happened four years ago, has been fixed and which we ourselves made public at the time,” a John Lewis Partnership spokesperson said.
“The issue arose because the Partnership smooths pay so that Partners with variable pay get the same amount each month, helping them to budget.
“Our average minimum hourly pay has never been below the national minimum wage and is currently 15 per cent above it.”
The next retailer on the was convenience store operator McColl’s, which underpaid 4366 staff by £258,048, followed by rival One Stop Stores which failed to pay 2631 workers £56,505 of wages.
The Body Shop was also named and shamed on the list.
Almost half of employers named on the list wrongly deducted pay from workers’ wages, including for uniforms and expenses, while 30 per cent failed to pay workers for all the time they had worked, such as when they worked overtime, and 19 per cent paid the incorrect apprenticeship rate.
“Our minimum wage laws are there to ensure a fair day’s work gets a fair day’s pay. It is unacceptable for any company to come up short,” business minister Paul Scully said.
“All employers, including those on this list, need to pay workers properly.
“This government will continue to protect workers’ rights vigilantly, and employers that short-change workers won’t get off lightly.”
Low Pay Commission chairman Bryan Sanderson said: “These are very difficult times for all workers, particularly those on low pay who are often undertaking critical tasks in a variety of key sectors including care.
“The minimum wage provides a crucial level of support and compliance is essential for the benefit of both the recipients and our society as a whole.”
A total of 2300 employers have been named since the current scheme was introduced in 2014.
Shadow employment rights and protections secretary Andy McDonald said: “The government isn’t doing nearly enough to crack down on companies who pay under the national minimum wage.
“Just six employers have been prosecuted for paying employees less than the minimum wage in the last six years despite more than 6,500 breaches having been found.
“Laws protecting workers aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they are not enforced, but weak employment rights and a lack of enforcement action leaves too many working people vulnerable to this exploitation.”
TUC head of economics Kate Bell said: “Minimum wage workers have been at the heart of the pandemic, and deserve a decent wage of at least £10 an hour.
“But these cases show many workers aren’t even being paid the legal minimum, with household name employers flouting their responsibility to properly pay staff, and they are likely to be just the tip of an underpayment iceberg.
“Government should step up inspections to catch every employer that underpays staff.”
with PA Wires