‘NAMING and shaming’ bosses who refuse to pay workers even the minimum wage is not enough, trade union GMB correctly insisted yesterday, demanding that those responsible must be prosecuted.
They were responding to the Tory government’s Department for Business ‘naming and shaming’ 260 employers who have not paid 16,000 workers the legal minimum wage. Paying workers under the minimum wage is illegal.
GMB reiterated: ‘The approach to name and shame minimum-wage employers is a poor substitute for prosecution. The guilty companies will now have to pay back a total of £3 million in underpaid wages and fines, but no criminal prosecutions have been initiated against employers since the government began its naming and shaming policy – meaning the minimum wage dodging will continue.’
Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, said: ‘These companies rake in millions of pounds in profit yet seemingly think it’s OK to cheat workers who are already paid a pittance of the wages they are legally entitled to. It absolutely stinks. It’s impossible to feed and clothe your family and put a roof over their heads on the minimum wage, without fat cat bosses trying to scam you out of the pay you’ve worked hard for. The government should get serious and prosecute employers who rob working people of what they’re owed, otherwise this will happen time and time again.’
Sports Direct is among the 260 companies ‘named and shamed’. Unite said: ‘Government figures naming and shaming 260 employers who have dodged paying 16,000 workers minimum wage rates are the “tip of the iceberg”.’
Unite added: ‘Just under one million of the £1.7 million in back pay identified by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was thanks to Unite’s campaign exposing “Victorian” work practices at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire.’
The Victorian practices which Unite are talking about are that Sports Direct were treating workers more like they were in a workhouse rather then a warehouse. They were searched on their way in and out of work, told to speed up on the Tannoy system, with a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. And this is standard practice.
Just last month warehouse conditions at Amazon were exposed. Workers walked the equivalent of 10 miles a day, with their toilet breaks timed and workers being paid 7p for every item packed. In the lead-up to Xmas, workers were doing a 55-hour week, with cases of workers collapsing from exhaustion and ambulances called to the site to cart them away. At Amazon’s Scottish warehouse, ambulances were called to the site on 43 occasions!
All of this is ‘legal’ and part and parcel of the capitalist Xmas rush. Primark was another one of the companies listed as not paying workers in the UK the minimum wage. This is the horror of warehouse work taking place in the UK on this side of the productive process. On the supplier side, another form of capitalist horror faces the workers there. In 2014, Primark was forced to pay more than £6m to victims of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza clothing factory collapsed claiming the lives of 1,100 garment workers.
The brutal reality of the capitalist system is that it relies on slave labour abroad with workers being paid the equivalent of £2 a day or less to make clothes in countries like Bangladesh, which are then distributed using slave labour in the UK, where workers are paid minimum wage, and in a lot of cases not even that.
Capitalism by its very nature is theft. The essence of capitalism is that it exploits the labour power of the working class, stealing the surplus labour of workers all to keep a tiny minority, the capitalist class living a life of luxury with more money than they could possibly spend, while workers cannot even afford the basic necessities of life – food and shelter.
The working class is an international class, it has the same class interests and the same class enemy. Karl Marx famously said: ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win!’ This means the big bosses do not only need to be prosecuted, they need to be expropriated so that the entire productive process from start to finish is used to benefit the working class and the whole of society.