37,000 Scots paid less than minimum wage last year

Credit: Citizens Advice

Lauren Brooks
Writer

Citizens Advice Scotland are calling for a “legal reality” for minimum wage.

Nearly 37,000 people in Scotland were paid below the minimum wage last year, figures reveal.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), an independent advice network, found that a total of 36,876 Scots were paid less than minimum wage. The charity is now calling for a “legal reality” for minimum wage as the current one leaves many living in poverty.

In Scotland, the charity’s third biggest issue is around employment and they issued 12,000 pieces of advice on entitlements and pay in 2018/19 alone. CAS spokeswoman Mhoraig Green said that they regularly find employers refusing to pay holiday pay, workers are paid “cash-in-hand”, not given contracts or payslips and are paying illegally low rates to non-UK nationals in particular.

Green said: “The current minimum wage rates are not sufficient to enable many people to live above poverty levels, even when they are paid in full.

“With living costs rising and social security support reducing, people who go out to work should be able to earn a wage that allows them to live a decent life, provide for their family and live in dignity. That is clearly not the case for too many households.”

The living wage, which is not being met by many employers, is based upon the cost of living. The national minimum wage for over 25s last year was £7.83, which then rose to £8.21 in 2019. This leads to calls for employers to pay the “real living wage” which, according to Living Wage Foundation UK, is currently £9.30 per hour in the UK and £10.75 for those in London. This is calculated by looking at costs of living based on household goods and services and is “the only wage rate based on what people need to live.”

Scotland’s minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn stated: “We will continue to encourage every organisation, regardless of size, sector or location, to ensure all staff receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work as part of our progressive Scottish Fair Work approach.”

The numbers do not include those paid in the informal economy. Employers may avoid paying their employees minimum wage by not paying them for time spent on a training course or time spent “on call”. Employers may even claim that they give their employees benefits which “top up” the rate of pay, such as meals or keeping tips. However, in all cases employees are entitled to be paid minimum wage and any extra benefits such as these.

Those not entitled to minimum wage include armed forces, work experience, some trainees, interns and under 16s.

CAS earlier this year tried to improve young people’s knowledge around employment rights. The charity also supports investigating breaches of maternity, holiday and sickness pay as well as redundancy, dismissals and other employment rights.

Examples of cases that were submitted to the Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) included three EU nationals aged between 20 and 22 who were students working in a restaurant over summer. They were given contracts to sign but the employer never provided a copy. They were working up to 80 hours a week at a salary of £150 per week. This was below the minimum wage and above the 48 hours maximum allowed by law.

The case claimed that if an employee did not want to work, the employer would get angry and threaten their job safety. CAB believes the case showed evidence of potential discrimination as the Scottish workers of the same establishment opposed this and received full money after they complained while the three EU nationals were told not to return to work despite being owed around £7,000 between them.

Green said: “The figures we publish today are simply unacceptable. Employers need to understand that paying the statutory minimum wage rate for their workers is not optional. It is the law.”