Socialist Worker

Billionaires and corporations owe workers millions in unpaid wages

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2736

Tax dodger Jim Ratcliffe

Tax dodger Jim Ratcliffe (Pic: Flickr/FCO)

Corporate giants and firms owned by billionaires have been exposed as not even paying their workers the minimum wage.

They include a hotel group controlled by the multi-billionaire tax exile Sir Jim Ratcliffe. 

Investigated between 2016 and 2018 the 139 named companies failed to pay £6.7 million to over 95,000 workers in total, in a flagrant breach of employment law. The offending companies range in size from small businesses to large multinationals.

The businesses were named by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) on Thursday.

Ratcliffe, who has an estimated £12 billion fortune, owns 55 percent of Home Grown Hotels. It failed to pay £13,790 to 25 workers. The company said this related to “inadvertent breaches of very complex regulations” following “deductions made for staff accommodation and uniform deposits”.

Beis said, “One of the main causes of minimum wage breaches was low-paid employees being made to cover work costs, such as paying for uniform, training or parking fees.

“Also, some employers failed to raise employees’ pay after they had a birthday which should have moved them into a different National Minimum Wage bracket.”

Another firm cited by Beis was Britain’s largest private sector employer, Tesco. It underpaid 78,199 workers a total of £5.1 million.

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The announcement coincided with its former chief executive Dave Lewis being knighted in the New Year’s honours list.


Also on the list of offenders are the restaurant chain Pizza Hut, Superdrug Stores, Müller UK, The Lowry luxury hotel group and St Johnstone Football Club. The smaller employers include “Mrs Therese Ann Binns, trading as Winston Churchill”.

The Beis announcement said, “Preserving and enforcing workers’ rights is a priority for this government.” 

That’s hypocritical nonsense.

The government has presided over a decade of real terms pay cuts for those it employs directly, let alone in the private sector.

It has enthusiastically passed anti-union laws to weaken resistance to bosses. It has rammed through rounds of privatisation that have gutted workers’ rights and pay. It is now implementing a pay freeze for millions of public sector workers. 

And chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review in November scaled back the scheduled increase in the minimum wage. 

Bosses have little to fear when they are caught underpaying. All they have to do is to make up the arrears to wages. They may also face fines, but these are capped at twice the arrears, a pittance to the corporate giants.

None of the penalties have been made public.

Someone found guilty of benefit fraud with these sort of sums involved could face jail.

For the Tories, such a list of “rogue employers” is a cover to protect the “good boss” who plays by the rules while exploiting people “properly”.

Socialists should point to these examples, but not let off the government and the rest of the capitalist class.

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