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Hindu temple masons paid 30p an hour

15 November 2000

Indian masons brought to England at a wage of 30p a day to help build a Hindu temple in Wembley should be paid the national minimum wage.

Officials of UCATT, the construction union, made the BBC news in October when they protested outside the site of the new temple where the Indian masons are working.

According to Andrew Webb, the reporter, the masons had been paid 30p an hour for more than a year, although they received free food and board. Their pay had subsequently been increased to £3.60 an hour, although that was still less than the minimum wage of £3.70 an hour required from Sunday 1 October (£3.20 for 18-21 year olds) when the rate was increased.

Andrew Webb reported that paying less than the minimum wage was legal because the workers\' contracts of employment were signed outside the UK.

However, that is something the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) emphatically denies. They say the minimum wage law applies to everyone working in the UK (apart from company directors), wherever their contracts were signed.

The question has already been resolved in a court case in Scotland, where a company employing women from Thailand was ordered to pay £12,000 to the women to make up the shortfall between what they had been paid and the legal minimum wage.

The Inland Revenue enforces the law, although they will not talk about particular cases. In a case where workers were paid less than the minimum wage they would normally try to persuade the company to increase the wages and pay back pay.

If a company refuses to pay, an Enforcement Notice can be issued. If the Enforcement Notice is ignored, a penalty notice is issued fining the company twice the minimum wage per worker per day. Workers would still be entitled to claim back pay equivalent to the amount they had been underpaid at an industrial tribunal.

To the end of August, the DTI report, more than £2million in back pay had been recovered for workers who had received less than the full minimum wage since the law was introduced in April 1999.

Jane Buxey, director of Stone Federation Great Britain, said of the Wembley temple case: SFGB was unhappy to hear that foreign stone masons were allegedly being paid £3 a day.

The Federation is currently investigating these claims and will, if this information proves to be correct, be making representations to the Government in the strongest terms.

The stone industry in this country is able to provide the necessary skills needed to work on the type of project in question. SFGB members not only pay their staff competitive rates, but also give the necessary training and development that\'s required both to retain and improve the high standards in our industry.

All parties have to bear responsibility for this upset and we will be discussing this at our regular meetings with clients and Government.

At the beginning of October, coinciding with the setting of the new minimum wage at £3.70 an hour for those over 21 and £3.20 an hour for 18-21 year olds, the DTI launched a new website explaining the national minimum wage.

The site is known by the acronym TIGER (Tailored Interactive Guidance on Employment Rights). It is intended to be helpful to both employers and employees. The address is given below.

By answering questions on a simple decision tree, actual hourly rates can be calculated for individual cases, taking into account, for example, temporary employment, jobs that include accommodation, and jobs that include commission.

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