So, with markedly less media hoo-ha than on previous occasions, BIS today ‘named & shamed’ another 92 employers for breaching the national minimum wage (NMW). The relative dearth of national media coverage may reflect the absence from this tranche – the Conservative government’s third since May 2015 – of any household name retailers, but the first name on the list – TSS (Total Security Services) Ltd., of London E4 – was in fact notable for at least three reasons.
The first – and most obvious – is that the total wages TSS Ltd were found by HMRC to have thieved from 2,519 of its employees – £1.742 million – is, by some distance, the largest sum owed by any of the 490 NMW-breaching employers named & shamed by BIS to date under the revamped scheme introduced in October 2013.
That’s almost 17 times the next largest sum owed – £104,507.83, by Monsoon (named & shamed in October 2015), to 1,438 workers – and more than 700 times the average sum owed by the other 488 named & shamed employers (£2,474.10). And it accounts for no less than 57% of the total £3,054,501.90 of arrears owed by the 490 employers named & shamed to date.
If we include the 165 employers that BIS says escaped naming & shaming under the 2013 scheme on the basis that the arrears they owed were less than £100, then the sum owed by TSS Ltd is a stonking 858 times the average arrears owed by the other 654 employers found to have breached the NMW in investigations launched since October 2013.
To put TSS Ltd’s £1.742m in context from a different angle, in the whole of 2014-15 HMRC recovered just £3.3m of arrears on behalf of 26,318 workers.
Yet, apparently, thieving £1.742m from 2,519 of your workers still isn’t a ‘serious’ enough evasion of a legal duty that’s only been around for 16 years to qualify TSS Ltd for criminal prosecution. Which begs the question, just how badly do you have to breach the minimum wage these days to get prosecuted? Sadly, no journalist seems to have thought it worth putting this question to BIS.
As recently as May last year, BIS stated that “the more extensive and substantial the alleged arrears, the more likely it is that HMRC will wish to investigate with a view to [criminal] prosecution”. Yes, but how likely? Just imagine what would happen to someone who fraudulently claimed £1.742 million in social security benefits. [Postscript: Asked to explain HMRC’s reasons for not prosecuting TSS Ltd, ministers have declined to do so].
The second reason the naming & shaming of TSS Ltd was noteworthy, to me at least, is that the company’s somewhat less than angelic approach to life has already been laid bare in court. TSS Ltd provides security guards to a number of high street retailers, and many of those guards have played a crucial role in a nasty (and very profitable) legal scam known as ‘civil recovery‘. This involves agents for household name retailers such as Boots sending demands for ‘compensation’ to those accused – but not necessarily guilty – of petty shoplifting, with threats of civil court action if the (pre-determined, arbitrary and excessive) sum demanded is not paid promptly.
Two reports for Citizens Advice in 2009 and 2010 by yours truly led first to a debate in Parliament, and then – in May 2012 – to a test case in Oxford County Court that ended horribly for the civil recovery agent in question – Retail Loss Prevention – and its retailer client (which was so embarrassed it successfully sought anonymity in the judgment). And a crucial factor in that legal debacle was the utter demolition, in the witness box, of a TSS Ltd manager, Susan Kent.
In her signed witness statement, Mrs Kent had claimed she spent six hours and 45 minutes ‘dealing’ with the attempted theft by three teenage girls. However, under cross examination in court, Mrs Kent was eventually forced to admit she had spent no more than one hour and 10 minutes ‘dealing’ with the incident. And this mattered, because the legally unfounded claim for ‘compensation’ was based largely on how much time Mrs Kent and a junior TSS Ltd colleague had supposedly spent ‘dealing with the incident’. Oops.
So, it’s nice to see a bunch of shits getting hit with a bill for £1.742m – plus, presumably, a tidy (but unknown) sum in financial penalties for non-compliance. But the third reason that the ‘naming & shaming’ of TSS Ltd was noteworthy is that any number of its security guard vacancies have been advertised and promoted via numerous branches of the Government’s JobCentre Plus.
Yes, that’s right. A company that has thieved £1.742 million from its low-paid employees, and been ‘named & shamed’ (but not prosecuted) by government for doing so, can advertise its vacancies for free on a government website. And how many of those advertised vacancies complied with the national minimum wage?
Joined-up government, anyone?
TSS Ltd aside, the list of 92 NMW-breaching employers was otherwise the usual ragbag of economic minnows. Sixty-five of the 92 employers owed arrears to just one worker, and only six owed arrears to more than five workers. Thirty-five owed total arrears of less than £500, and 71 owed less than £2,000. TSS Ltd owed arrears to three times as many workers as the other 91 employers put together (833). However, for once, there were more employers in the hospitality sector (17) than there were hairdressers/beauty salons (12). So my updated ‘chart of the meanies’ looks like this: