Not so squeaky clean

12 July 2017 | Pic PR

Intern extraordinaire, Rose, blogs on Soap and Co badly short changing its work force...

In a *not so* shocking turn of events, yet another company has come under fire for failing to pay its employees the national minimum wage.

A BBC investigation has discovered that certain workers at Soap and Co., a cosmetics chain with stores in major London shopping centers, are being paid a mere £2.05 per hour. An undercover reporter spent one month working for the company, documenting the treatment of staff and their employment conditions. The reporter discovered that employees were made to work for around 60 hours per week, despite signing a contract claiming that they’re self-employed.

This means that workers are paid purely for commission based on their sales. The BBC’s undercover reporter was paid £199 in commission for 97 hours’ work. This works out at a ghastly £2.05 per hour. Self-employment contracts also mean that Soap and Co. do not have to pay national insurance.

Lawyers have advised the BBC that the high level of control exercised by managers over workers meant that they were in fact employees. Not only should they have been paid the minimum wage, they should also be entitled to holiday pay and sick pay.

Naturally, this equates to some seriously bad PR for Soap and Co. As a relatively small company based in London, the outcome of this investigation could well be detrimental to the stores’ sales – in an ideal world, anyway.

The fact that yet another company has shirked the fundamental responsibility of paying its employees a decent wage is a clear comment on what employers think they can get away with nowadays.

Claiming that employees are self-employed is epidemic among businesses in the gig economy. For example, both Uber and Deliveroo argue that their employees are “independent contractors” because they only work casual hours. This means that they are under no legal obligation to guarantee the living wage or any other employment benefits

A government-commissioned report called the Taylor review has recently determined that such companies should clarify exactly what rights casual employees are entitled to. This means that “dependent contractors” should receive sick pay, holiday pay, and parental pay. Luckily for both Uber and Deliveroo, however, it does not demand that they must guarantee minimum wage “at all times”.

For an increasing number of employers, treating workers poorly is a small price to pay if it means they can save money. What’s more, both employees and consumers have arguably come to expect this kind of behavior.

While smaller businesses like Soap and Co. are likely to crumble under such a scandal, faceless giants like Deliveroo and Uber will invariably get away with it. After all, they provide businesses and consumers with a terribly convenient service. Until customers seriously evaluate the ethos of a company before buying into their products or services, nothing will change.