Argos, WH Smith and M&S have been named and shamed by the government for flouting national minimum wage rules.
The high-street retailers are among 202 employers that face a total of almost £5 million in penalties, which date back more than 10 years and must be reimbursed to the 63,000 workers affected.
According to the firms, the breaches were accidental and were rectified once they became aware of them.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Back in 2018, a payroll error was identified which affected some Argos store colleagues and drivers and dated back to 2012 – before Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos. We launched an immediate investigation, working alongside HMRC, and put this right at the time.
“Since then we have completed the integration of Argos onto Sainsbury’s systems which will prevent this from happening again. Since acquiring Argos, we have made significant investment into colleague pay and the Argos colleague hourly rate is now aligned with Sainsbury’s, representing an average increase of 53% over the last seven years.”
The organisations highlighted range from well-known high-street names to small firms and sole traders. WH Smith was the worst offender, failing to pay £1,017,693.36 to 17,607 people, while Lloyds Pharmacy was the second worst, failing to pay £903,307.47 to 7,916 employees. These were followed by Marks and Spencer, Argos and Buzz Group.
Minister for enterprise, markets and small business Kevin Hollinrake said: “Paying the legal minimum wage is non-negotiable and all businesses, whatever their size, should know better than to short-change hard-working staff.
“Most businesses do the right thing and look after their employees, but we’re sending a clear message to the minority who ignore the law: pay your staff properly or you’ll face the consequences.”
Of the organisations named, around 39% had underpaid staff by deducting money from their wages, with the same percentage incorrectly paying them for their working time. One in five (21%) had failed to pay the correct rate for apprenticeships.
Bryan Sanderson, chair of the Low Pay Commission, added: “The minimum wage acts as a guarantee to ensure all workers without exception receive a decent minimum standard of pay. Where employers break the law, they not only do a disservice to their staff but also undermine fair competition between businesses.
“Regular naming rounds should be a useful tool in raising awareness of underpayment and helping to protect minimum wage workers.”