• Robert Spicer

Midcounties Co-op fails to pay minimum wage: 69p per hour?

Midcounties Co-op fails to pay minimum wage

Midcounties Co-op, Britain’s biggest independent co-op, has made the largest single payout to a worker for breaching minimum wage rules. Rodney Sharpe, a newspaper delivery man, was awarded £14,000 in back pay, while Roger Lilley was awarded £4,000 for wages and expenses.

Mr Sharpe has delivered newspapers on a 21 mile round around Maidenhead for over two decades. He had a reputation as a star worker and was liked by customers. He walks with a stick and suffers from diabetes. Due to this, each round took him around four and a half hours yet he was paid £85 per week, equating to £3.15 per hour. As one of his customers told the Guardian

“It is very unfortunate that a body like the Co-op, which purports to be a wholly ethical organisation, should be at the bottom of something like this. Rodney always did his utmost and was always absolutely determined to make the delivery.”

Mr Lilley worked as a newspaperman whilst caring for his mother-in-law who suffers from dementia. He realised that having deducted car and petrol expenses, sometimes he took home only 69p per hour. Having tried to address matters internally to no avail, Mr Lilley complained to the HMRC.

The two men have both commented on the difficulty they had with dealing with their employer, with three years of protracted legal paperwork. For a company that prides itself on ethical principles, this will undoubtedly tarnish their reputation.

Midcounties Co-op have since stated that they have different systems now in place to stop this happening again. However, the case highlights the problems in the so called gig economy. Ahead of next month’s ruling on Uber delivery drivers, the spotlight is refocused on the legal definition of employees, workers and the self-employed. In a world characterised by casual, short-term freelance contracts – do these traditional categories reflect the current working position? While it may seem straight forward for workers to be guaranteed a minimum rate of pay, who counts as “worker” and what counts as “pay” is not necessarily a clear cut question. What is clear is that a holistic approach ought to be taken to ensure that all hours spent working are appropriately remunerated.

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