John Lewis is among the companies “named and shamed” in a government list of employers found to be paying staff below the legal minimum wage.
The employee-owned partnership was one of 191 companies including care homes, childcare services and farms that were fined for owing a total of £2.1m to more than 34,000 workers, as part of the government’s effort to show that it is cracking down on the abuse of workers.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the breaches took place between 2011 and 2018, and the employers had since been made to pay back what they owed. They were fined an extra £3.2m, to show that “is never acceptable to underpay workers”.
The business minister Paul Scully said it was “unacceptable for any company to come up short” on the government’s minimum wage laws, which were put in place “to ensure a fair day’s work gets a fair day’s pay”.
“All employers, including those on this list, need to pay workers properly,” he added. “This government will continue to protect workers’ rights vigilantly, and employers that short-changed workers won’t get off lightly.”
A spokesperson for the John Lewis Partnership said it was surprised and disappointed that the government had chosen to report this today after the pay breach “happened four years ago, has been fixed and which we ourselves made public at the time”.
“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% above it,” the spokesperson added.
The government detailed a number of ways in which breaches could occur, including when workers were paid the minimum wage rate or slightly higher and then had deductions from their pay for uniforms or accommodation.
Of the employers named in the government’s list, almost 50% wrongly deducted pay from workers’ wages, including for uniforms and expenses, and almost a third failed to pay workers for all the time they had worked, such as when they worked overtime. Almost a fifth of employers paid the incorrect apprenticeship rate, the government said.
Bryan Sanderson, the chair of the Low Pay Commission, 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.”