Working below the minimum wage

Minimum wage law exists for a reason, but inevitably some employers try to get around it. In this case study we take a look at a specific instance of a company paying employees below minimum wage.

True Stories

sad boy

"London was so expensive."

Ankur, 21, moved to London from Mumbai to study for a Masters in International Business. But he was shocked when he was forced to work below the minimum wage to help fund his education. He tells The Mix about his working conditions and what he now knows about minimum wage law…

Finding work in the UK as a foreign student

I came to England because I thought it would be a great place to study for my Masters. I’d heard wonderful things from my friends who’d lived and worked here, but unfortunately it wasn’t that easy for me.

Living in London was very expensive. In my first month I spent £200 over my budget and realised I needed a job. I started looking for work, but found it extremely difficult because my English wasn’t good and I didn’t have the experience employers were looking for. After two months I still hadn’t found a job and was getting desperate.

Cash in hand work

After trawling through recruitment websites and asking in shops, I finally got a job through someone I knew at university working at an alcohol wholesaler. It mainly involved dealing with the deliveries and stocking products. It was cash-in-hand, which I thought would be more convenient because I wouldn’t have to set up payment to a bank account.

I wasn’t aware of the minimum wage law in the UK and didn’t realise there were jobs that paid cash. I was paid £30 for an eight-hour shift and worked 16-hours a week. At first I was happy I had a job, but then I realised that I wasn’t being paid enough.

A trade union member visited our university to talk to overseas students about workers’ rights and the national minimum wage laws. It worked out I was being paid £3.75 an hour, which was well below the minimum wage. I asked my boss if he could increase my wage. But he said if I wanted more money I would have to find another job. I couldn’t risk losing the job, so I just went along with it.

Poor working conditions

The working conditions at the wholesaler were horrible. I wasn’t allowed to take breaks and I didn’t eat most days because I was constantly working. It was unprofessional and not what I expected. The situation was made worse when I found out my colleagues, who were British, were being paid more. And yet we were doing exactly the same job.

Lots of employers take advantage of international students because we’re only allowed to work 20 hours a week during term-time and need the money to live. For me it was a choice between no money at all and earning below the minimum wage.

The final straw came when my boss asked me to work more hours for less money – I couldn’t believe it. He was paying me £60 for two days, but wanted me to work three days for £70. That would mean I’d be earning £2.92 an hour! I told him that I couldn’t do it anymore and was going to concentrate on my education instead of working in such poor conditions.

No one should accept anything less than the minimum wage and employers shouldn’t take their staff for granted. You can’t expect to be paid peanuts for a job just because you’re new to a country. The whole experience has put me off working in the UK and when I finish my Masters I’m planning on returning to India.

Know your employment rights

Many thanks to Ankur from everyone at The Mix for sharing his story. It’s important to note that most people who work are entitled to get paid at least the National Minimum Wage, and that includes casual workers, people on zero hours contracts and agency workers (AKA temps).

It might be worth visiting the Citizens Advice Bureau if you think the company you work for is paying employees below minimum wage. In a case like that, your employer owes you the difference between what you should have been paid and what they’ve actually been paying you.

If you think your employer might be breaking minimum wage law, start by asking them:

  • How they’ve worked out your pay
  • Why they think they’re already paying you minimum wage
  • Why they think they don’t have to pay you the minimum wage

Some employers might try to fob you off on ‘benefits’ like meals, but you have a right to get paid the legal minimum wage on top of anything like that.

It might be useful to print out your result from the National Minimum Wage calculator. Bring it to a meeting with your employer. If your employer agrees they’ve made a genuine mistake, they should pay you what you’re owed immediately. Good luck!

If you’ve got any thoughts on the issues around minimum wage raised in this article, please feel free to chat about it on our Discussion Boards.

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By Holly Turner

Updated on 02-Jul-2021