The Highfields Minimum Wage Project (2001-2005)

“Between 2001 and 2005, the [Leicester] City Council ran a local enforcement project in the Highfields area of the city in partnership with HMRC and the then Department of Trade and Industry. This project was successful in building the confidence of workers, predominantly Asian Women, to make complaints to enforcement agencies and recover unpaid wages. During this period, the project identified 39 employers in the city that were not paying the minimum wage and recovered in excess of £118,000 in wages for nearly 500 workers. Unfortunately, Government funding for this project ended in 2005 and it has since ceased to operate.” — Damon Gibbons, “Developing a Fair Finance Strategy for Leicester and Leicestershire,” March 18, 2015, p.15.

rmt-min-wage-placard

The following passage is taken from Amrit Wilson’s book Dream, Questions, Struggles: South Asian Women in Britain (Pluto Press, 2006), pp.156-7.

“At the Highfields Minimum Wage Project in Leicester, set up in partnership with Leicester City Council and Community, Champa Chudasama deals with cases of workers who are not being paid the minimum wage in the five main industries categorised as low paying in Leicester – hosiery, retail, care of children and the elderly, restaurants and catering, and hairdressing. In all of these, except hairdressing, Asian women form a large proportion of workers.

“If a worker is being paid less than the minimum wage, the Inland Revenue can not only investigate without the worker being identified but also enforce payment. However, according to Champa Chudasama, this does not happen often.

“In practice the Inland Revenue do not use their power under the legislation. For example, they could take out criminal prosecutions for falsifying records, which is very common in the low-paid sector but there has not been a single case of such prosecution so far.

“If a worker is not being paid the minimum wageand has, in addition, other problems such as non-payment of holiday pay for example, then the Project takes the case to the Employment Tribunal.

“The bulk of employers do pay up if the tribunal finds against them but some won’t. Then money has to be found to take the case to County Court. This could cost a total of several hundred pounds with no guarantee of success.

“Champa confirms what other case workers have told me, that the level of stress for workers taking such cases to tribunal is enormous. There is a feeling, she says, of a losing battle against the rising tide of unscrupulous employers whose sweatshops have mushroomed in the Belgrave and Highfield areas of Leicester. Even the old Imperial Typewriters buildings is now home to a number of such workplaces. These employers, says Champa, can simply close down their factories when threatened and reopen registered under another name.

“And yet workers do come to the Highfield Project. Between September 2002 and January 2004, 43 cases were dealt with, and

“…a significant number of these are of Asian women – from all groups, Hindu, Muslim, Gujarati and Punjabi … On the whole I’d say that those who come are the strong ones, because even coming here is a big step – in a lot of cases the family does not want it. The attitude is don’t rock the boat, don’t make trouble.”

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