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National minimum wage laws

The news that the government wants to get tough with those companies who do not pay the national minimum wage (NMW) enables us to look at what action can be taken by employees who suspect they are not being paid correctly.

The government says it will write to businesses to explain they could be liable for on-the-spot checks by the taxman as all workers over the age of 16 are legally entitled to a national minimum hourly wage, including agency workers and home workers.

The wage increased earlier this year and now stands at:

£6.31 an hour for those over the age of 21.

£3.72 for those aged between 16 and 17.

£5.03 for those aged between 18 and 20.

£2.68 for apprentices either under the age of 19 or who are in the first year of their apprenticeship.

There are however some workers who are not be entitled to a national minimum wage. These are:

  1. Workers aged under the age of 16.
  2. Some of those who live and work within a family. They will not be eligible for a minimum wage if they live in the family home where they work (such as a nanny).
  3. Genuinely self-employed people.

What action can be taken to correct your pay?

  1. Firstly the worker should talk to their employer about the matter.
  2. They can ask the employer to see their payment records and are entitled to take copies of them. If it turns out that the employer does owe the worker some money, this has to be paid back.
  3. Employees also have the option of calling the Pay and Work Rights helpline for assistance in any pay dispute. It is run by HM Revenue & Customs and is able to investigate businesses which do not pay the NMW to their workers.
  4. If HM Revenue & Customs discovers that a firm has not been paying an employee correctly they will be sent a notice for the arrears as well as a penalty. If the firm continues to refuse to pay then HMRC does have the option of taking the firm to court on the worker’s behalf.
  5. The worker also has the option of taking further action themselves by taking their employer to an employment tribunal. This course of action can also be used in an unfair dismissal claim if the worker has been dismissed as a result of a dispute about the minimum wage.

This course of action is also relevant if you have been bullied or badly treated at work as a result of a dispute concerning the NMW. There is a time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal, which is three months less a day from the date the incident or whatever it is you are complaining about last happened.

  1. You cannot be compelled to agree to a wage lower than that of the minimum wage. If your employer tries to make you sign something to this effect it will not be legally binding.