Named and Shamed: The Companies that Treat their Workers Unfairly

Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of items you buy from popular retailers? We are all guilty of looking of wanting a particular item of clothing so much, or wanting a completely ‘new wardrobe’ that we won’t spare a second thought for anything apart from how good it will look when we’ve bought it, the cheaper the better. If we take a moment to stop and think about where the things we have bought have come from or who made it possible for you to quickly buy your items of choice, there really is a lot more to it than we think. Recently, there has been a great scandal around well-known sports retailer Sports Direct and the payment of its workers as well as the factory workers of popular online store ASOS. The claims that they are unfairly treated and underpaid were just the start of it, and we are looking further into what actually happens behind the scenes of shopping.

ASOSASOS workers

ASOS is a much-loved fashion brand and online retailer that is used by millions of people everyday. Their popularity derives from a number of factors, including their budget friendly prices, their huge list of much-loved fashion brands, their tendency to always be offering some kind of discount or sale and they’re free and usually considerably speedy delivery process. Using ASOS is a great way of avoiding the high street shops battle and also gives you access to clothing from high street brands that you may not have in your area. All in all, ASOS makes for an all round winner when it comes to buying their reasonable quality clothing. But what is just beneath the surface? Reports have emerged that conditions in the ASOS warehouses are becoming more and more like slavery, with workers rights completely out of the window (there have been reports that they have even been refused toilet breaks in fear of targets being missed). It’s all well and good that ASOS are capable of delivering such a speedy service, but do people ever stop and wonder why it is so efficient, and with what expense?

Buzzfeed news conducted a three-month investigation following reports that a female member of the warehouse staff had suffered a panic attack due to the intense environment in which she was working. To make matters worse, she was later dismissed. What they found was a complete lack of consideration for workers of ASOS and a desperate need for change amongst the community. The root of the problem seems to be the somewhat unrealistic targets that are set by the managers, and in a bid to make sure all of these targets are fulfilled (all orders need to be dispatched within 48 hours, even sooner if a customer has paid for next day delivery) workers are missing out on basic rights such as drinking water and going to the toilet. This essentially means their job is affecting their health. ASOS has come under public scrutiny leading up to, and in the wake of, the investigation, with Labour leadership contender Owen Smith criticising their use of flexible contracts which means there is little to no stability for the workers, with reports of shifts being cancelled last minute and workers being sent home with no pay. The greed of the ASOS bosses and their desperation to meet targets means constant invasive surveillance of workers which has now been deemed inappropriate by the House of Commons Business Select Committee.

After Buzzfeed conducted several interviews with current ASOS staff, one worker put everything into a nutshell and compared the treatment of workers to slavery. The discouragement of toilet and water breaks is justified by management claiming that even ’30 seconds’ are extremely important to the company. Buzzfeed found that agency staff are exploited further by being put on contracts that allow assignments to be ended without notice and also see ASOS using a flex up, flex down policy which allows management to take away or extend a shift at short notice, and reward workers with time off rather than money for any additional hours worked. Of course, pay is docked if an employee enters the building even a single minute late (15 minutes pay is traditionally docked for even 1 minute of lateness). Unsurprisingly, ASOS has denied any claims of exploitation and continues to list the positives to working for such a diverse and well-known brand, including language learning schemes, subsidised canteen food and  a 3m pounds air con system to keep factories cool. It seems, that all of the mistreatment and unrealistic performance targets is a direct result of the ambitions to develop the ASOS empire, with the CEO himself once saying that he wanted ASOS to be the ‘Amazon of fashion.’

Sports DirectSports direct logo

After months of speculation, it was finally admitted by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley that staff that worked in the store did get paid less than the minimum wage. He is now facing a multi-million pound bill for his crimes, and, rightly so. The unfair treatment was first discovered after The Guardian conducted an investigation and found that the pay given to workers was below the legal requirement. The revelations have forced people to begin to question Mike Ashley’s competency as director of the company. As well as paying workers less than the minimum wage, there was also a number of other issues that were brought up in the court case against Sports Direct and these included; workers being docked 15 minutes pay for being one minute late, and general incompetency amongst all of the Sport’s Direct top management. It was claimed that Mike Ashley was running Sports Direct like a ‘Victorian Warehouse.’ HMRC itself was forced to investigate the minimum wage abuse and Mike Ashley has since confirmed that they are in talks to negotiate a deal for pay back to full-time workers. It has been stated that the fine issued to Mike Ashley and Sports Direct has the potential to one of the highest national minimum wage fines in history.

Naturally, after the parliamentary inquest into Mike Ashley’s company, he has received a lot of contempt and as a result lost a lot of business. People are offended by the total lack of respect and dignity his company has shown towards its workers, especially in 2016. Evidence suggested that Mr Ashley himself visited the Sports Direct headquarters in Derby around once a week so it seems impossible that he was not aware of what was going on around him, and because of this, he must be held accountable. It seems that once again the low cost items that we all know and love have come at a cost to the workers that make it all possible.

 

Can I check my National Insurance contributions online?

National Insurance contributions are made by everyone in the UK, and allow you to qualify for other benefits such as the State Pension. You pay National Insurance contributions automatically if you are over 16, an employee making £155 a week, or are self-employed and earning more than £5965 in profits each year.Can I check my National Insurance contributions online?

Before you can make any National Insurance contributions, you need to have a National Insurance number. You can find your personal number on your payslip, p60, or letters about tax sent to your address. There are seven different types of National Insurance, and you are placed into the relevant band based on your job and income. Class 1 is for employees earning more than £155 a week, and their National Insurance contributions are automatically taken away from their paycheck each month. Class 2 is for those who are self-employed , and their National Insurance contributions are paid through their self-assessment forms, which must be filled out manually each year. To find out which National Insurance band you fall into, contact the National Insurance Helpline, who can help you with any query you have regarding your National Insurance contributions.

The amount of National Insurance you pay can be between 2 and 12%, and you must inform HMRC if you change your address and or start/stop being self-employed.  To check which National Insurance band you fall under, we advise ringing the National Insurance Helpline. For this, you will need some personal information such as your name, date of birth, address, and NI number. If you wish to check your National Insurance payment record, you can do so on the government website. Again, you will need to have some personal information ready in case you are asked for it. If you wish to check if you qualify for the State Pension, or if you wish to find out how much you could receive on the State Pension, you can also do this online. However, you will need a log in to do this. You can create a login by following the instructions on your screen.

Recent figures show that almost 80% of UK residents do not know how many years you must pay National Insurance contributions in order to receive the full State Pension amount when you reach State Pension age. This shocking new statistic also found that 57% of citizens estimate they only have to pay 10 years less than the minimum amount of years. It was also found that 33% of UK citizens did not know that taking long periods of time off of work, for example for maternity leave or sick leave, resulted in not being awarded the full State Pension amount. With 55% of the population critically needing to take this time off, more people need to be made aware of exactly what impacts their State Pension.

You must have made 35 years of contributions with you National Insurance in order to qualify for a new state pension, which is five years more than previous years. Those who have made lower than 10 years worth of contributions towards National Insurance may receive nothing at all in terms of a State Pension. Many have called for an update by the government on the rules regarding National Insurance contributions, and for the legislation to made easily and readily available. If you wish to check your current National Insurance contributions, you need a log in with the HMRC, you also need personal information on yourself to get the information. Surely there should be a service whereby you can check up on all of the information regarding your National Insurance, what it contributes to, and exactly what you will receive when you start receiving your State Pension with the government.

It’s thought a change in legislation, and the ability for it to be more accessible by the UK public, will enable more and more people to engage with their monthly payments and review their pension options. Many people rely on the state pension. However, if they have only been contributing for less than 10 years, they will see nothing from the government whatsoever.

Many have called for the UK public to check their National Insurance contributions, and start a private pension pot or fund. This way, you will you have a back up in terms of money to live on if the state pension somehow falls short when you reach state pension age. Many young people are avoiding the issue of their pension in favor of spending their money for short term gain. This tactic is believed to send the economy on a downward spiral in future years. Young people are now being urged to keep an eye on their finances and plan for the future, as it may be starting to look bleak very soon.

If you would like to check your up to date contributions, you can do so on the government website, or by ringing the National Insurance Helpline. You can also fill out a structured email with the HMRC, who aim to be in touch with all applicants within two weeks.

How to be a Great Employer

how to be a great employer

Sometimes, employers can be unaware of exactly what makes a great company…well…Great! We’ve compiled a short list of all of the ways an employer can empower and motivate their workers and keep them wanting to strive for more.

Flexi time

This is great for building trust with your employees. Flexi time allows for workers to arrive between certain hours and leave after they have worked for a set amount of time. For example, workers can arrive from between 8am and 9.30 am – as long as they achieve 8 hours of work in that day- they can leave at their respective times. Employers should know that their employees have lives outside of work, and that sometimes lives get in the way of work. If a worker needs time in the morning to take their children to school, or fix a broken boiler, they can use flexi-time in order to avoid being late for work, making it easier for employers in the long run. This trust takes the anxiety out of the morning commute, and allows for more focus on the task at hand when they do make it to their desks.

Creative work environment

A work environment shouldn’t be cold and uninviting, why not invest in a pool table or ping pong table, and create a tournament amongst your workers? Or, have monthly dinners together at predetermined restaurants. When your employees are friendly with one another, the work environment seems a lot more welcoming, and cultivates a great workspace environment. Team building exercises also ensure a great work ethic. Why not set a monthly date with all of your workers and head out for a coffee? This way you’re taking them out of the work space environment and learning to bond with them outside of work. Once you have a relationship outside of work, you may find that it’s easier to communicate your feelings inside the office, which is vital.

Listen to your employees

Sometimes you need to listen to what your employees need in their work environment. Some may wish for certain incentives in the work place. Perhaps you could buy a trophy for your newly created pool tournament? Or you can buy weekly fruit baskets to keep your workers happy and healthy. Listening is key to great communication between employee and employer, maybe hold a meeting once a month and ask people what they would like to see more around the office to help them with work? Google is well known for listening to their employees. For example, one of their employees asked for more rubber ducks around the office. The next week? Thousands of rubber ducks appeared around the entire building! Alternatively, you could set up a Skype group for the office, this way you can be contacted discreetly. Sometimes, employers may become anxious to even approach you, Skype eliminates this encounter, allowing for more free flowing conversation.

Be approachable

how to be a great employerWhen you’re running a business, it can be hard to come across as approachable and accessible. Sometimes, workers need a helping hand, and they might not always ask for it. It helps to be friendly with your employees, let them know you’re there if they need you. Once you have this trust, you can open up a dialogue about work and other important avenues. It also helps if your employees know you’re available to talk one on one. If your office is in a small space, it can be impossible to talk without everyone else listening in. This is where Skype comes in handy once again – enabling private conversation without prying ears around the office, and allowing for a more casual conversation above email and meetings.

Incentives

Depending on your company or business, why not introduce work place incentives? Vouchers for those who meet their monthly targets allows for healthy competition amongst emplloyees, and gives them something to work towards. Alternatively, create a trophy for those who have produced the most outstanding work that month. A small personalised trophy doesn’t cost much, and can be fun in an otherwise stale work environment.

Pay a relevant wage

Wages can be tricky, but as long as you are paying your employees the right amount for their skills and workload, you will have no issues. It’s also a great idea to review pay each year, in order to keep on top of what you’re paying each individual, and whether they deserve less, or more, than they are currently on. If you would like advice on what the best rate of pay is for your business, ACAS can help. ACAS offers impartial advice for both employee and employer. So, if you would like to talk to them regarding an issue in the work place, a member of staff will offer help in any way they can. For more information on ACAS, visit the ACAS contact number page.

 

 

 

 

Unemployment Claimants Fall after Brexit

It was the vote that rocked the nation, but as the majority of Britain decided their country would be better off leaving the EU, fears and rumours surrounded the country about just what would happen once we severed our ties with the rest of Europe. One of the main issues up for debate was of course unemployment, an issue that has plagued Britain for decades , with many feeling that a Brexit would worsen the rate of employment, with experts predicting that employment would fall by about 9,500 after the results were announced. It seems that in true British fashion, its people have done their best to prove the predictors of their fate as wrong, and employment levels have in fact risen in the past few months. The results have been determined by the drop in claimants for the unemployment benefit Jobseeker’s Allowance with the claimant count falling to 763, 600, which is a huge 8, 600 in July and is the first monthly drop since February 2016. People at a new job after Brexit

It seems that UK unemployment has never been higher as for the past three months the average employment rate has stayed steady at 4.9% with the average weekly earnings rising by 2.3%, and imporvement on the previous 2.2%. The number of people not in work but actively seeking employment has emerged as 1.64 million which is the lowest it has been since March – May 2008, maybe Brexit wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Could it be argued that the fear for our economy after Britain left the EU has scared people into seeking employment? The huge rise in employment rate for 16-64 year olds is explained by the fact Britain has now left the EU, with the 74.5% employment rating being the highest it has been since 1971. It seems that speculation of a failing economy and a jobless Britain was nothing but that, speculation, as Britain thrives in its new (and improved?) environment. With two unfavourable factors that were predicted top come with a Brexit, proved wrong, could this mean that Britain isn’t in for as rough a ride as people first thought?!

Not over yet

Maybe not. UK economists are warning that we are not out of hot water just yet. The risk that Brexit poses to the economy, and the chances that investments will freeze means that employers are putting hiring on the back burner, meaning there are in fact going to be less jobs available in the upcoming quarter. Whilst some might opt to put a few hiring decisions on hold, some will completely stop headcount altogether. If there are no businesses to hire employees, then there are fears that this great rise in employment will soon come crashing back down. As much as it is important for workers to keep and find jobs, it is also understandably important that business owners take everything into consideration, including the rising annual wage prices which could have a huge effect if the post-Brexit economy is damaged yet businesses still decide to take on more employees.

Conclusively, as time goes on, it is becoming apparent that the bomb that David Cameron had warned was under the economy hasn’t exploded as expected as Britain are seeing little if any effects of a failing economy as of yet. Now we wait to see if it will appear.

Firms that used benefit claimants for unpaid work are revealed

It has been a hidden secret for years, but the firms that used benefit claimants for free labour have finally been forced to reveal their true identities, as they were named and shamed in the media last week. Firms that were linked to Mandatory Work Activity were included on a vast list for everyone to see as they were accused of exploiting benefit claimants with free work. The list includes a shocking 500 companies and amongst them were well-known supermarket giants Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as well as budget chain store pound-stretcher. The list was created in 2011 and the shameless firms have now been revealed. As well as retail firms, there was also cash company cash converters, popular chicken restaurant Nando’s and high street drug store Superdrug. Benefit claimants in supermarket

The Workfare Scheme

The notoriously hated workfare scheme affected 10, 000 job seekers as they were forced to work 30 hours of unpaid labour in exchange for their benefits per month. The scheme represented itself as voluntary – if claimants wanted to work or to gain experience, but there were reports that if a claimant had joined the scheme they would risk being sanctioned (benefits cut) if they left the scheme or didn’t show up for a shift they were due to work. The organisations (in this case some considerably big firms) were responsible for reporting back on the progress of thee workers on the scheme. In this case, workers were forced into Mandatory Work Activity, and understandably there was huge backlash surrounding the scheme. Until now, it has been kept a secret which firms were involved in such an unfair process, protected by a lengthy and costly legal battle, conducted by the DWP. The notion behind keeping the firm’s identities a secret was to protect their commercial interest. In other words, there were fears that they would be boycotted by protests if it became known they were involved in workfare. The DWP was in fact overruled by Watchdog back in 2014 to reveal the names, but fought a strong battle to stand its ground. Last Wednesday the DWP was finally overthrown, and chaos and anger has ensued. Contender for labour leadership Owen Smith has said that this is just one of many cover ups by the Tories for the DWP, which needs to change. He goes onto mention other controversial Tory movements such as cuts to the much anticipated Universal Credit, as well as the bedroom tax that has undeniably left many in a state of devastation. To add insult to injury, it was of course the tax payer that funded the massive cover up of the workfare scheme users. Whilst there was no official spending figure released, it is thought the DWP could have easily racked up tens of thousands of pounds in the process.

Job centre handing out benefitsThe Dangers of Workfare

It is kind of a given that this kind of scheme will cause upset purely for the fact that it screams exploitation of the most vulnerable. However, there are also a number of other reasons why the Workfare scheme is disliked. Firstly, it undermines the actual responsibility of volunteering, which many people do all over the UK. It is important that the UK has genuine volunteers, and that they are rewarded for this exact reason. People that also already volunteer were being forced to give up their current position and go and volunteer somewhere else in order to claim their benefits – which doesn’t seem necessary. It also undermines the need to create real jobs, and in turn actively increases unemployment. If companies are able to get their workers for free, they are less likely to create paid jobs, which means less jobs and further unemployment. In one particularly severe case, a pizza company in Leicester sacked 350 workers and re-located to Nottingham, where they were able to take on over one hundred benefit claimants for no pay. Although they claimed it was to give these ‘volunteers’ ‘experience’, the real reason behind the company’s decision is probably rather obvious. the workfare scheme was also once described by the Trade union Congress as a ‘failed policy.’ There has also never been any actual evidence to suggest that the Workfare scheme helps and encourages people to find jobs, this fact was even concluded by the DWP themselves. Some people are asked to work full time on Workfare placements, which averages out at an earning of £2 per hour. Working full time leaves little time to spend searching for jobs that will take them out of the Workfare scheme and place them in genuine employment.

They have been described as having a ‘skewed view of the world’ and it seems that the Tories made a huge mistake in forcing people into unpaid work – and are more than likely going to have to pay for it. The Mandatory work Activity mostly took place within a six month period, between July 2011 and January 2012, and overall there were 534 companies to exploit workers, including charities. Places on the list include Hartlepool, Thurrock and Leicester.

Despite many of the companies unsurprisingly refusing to comment, The Independent managed to get word from a spokesperson from Tesco, who defended the supermarket giant by saying that they had realised that adopting the scheme wasn’t right for them, after they had agreed to pay into the scheme, they also say that despite this, they remain committed to finding employment for the long term unemployed. After coming under such fire, the DWP did comment, but didn’t refer to the scandal unfolding and instead continued to preach the benefits of employment programmes, by saying that each year they help thousands of people to find work, as well as providing very useful new skills.