The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and National Living Wage 2016
In the April 2016 edition of “Business News”, the BMF told its members:
National Living Wage comes into force The new mandatory National Living Wage has come into force, requiring employers to pay workers aged 25 and over at least £7.20 an hour. It is expected to give 1.3 million workers an immediate pay rise.
In the Summer 2016 edition of “One Voice” the BMF published a 1½ page article on the NMW and NLW:
Rewarding your staff: The National Living Wage
The arrival of the new National Living Wage has been widely trailed in newspaper, television and radio adverts. But in the weeks since it became law, hidden consequences have begun to emerge.
Several high-street businesses have been pilloried by press and politicians when changes they made to staff terms and conditions became public. It began when a whistleblower at B&Q leaked a letter to “The Times”. In it, management is alleged to have threatened to dismiss staff unless they sign a new, less-generous contract. Brett Amphlett, BMF Policy & Public Affairs Manager, discusses the main issues for merchants:
In his July 2015 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced he would legislate to impose a new National Living Wage, over and above the National Minimum Wage. As the name suggests, it is all about living standards and aims to boost the pay of entry-level workers. It is part of complex, but concerted, moves by the Conservatives to reconfigure the system of welfare and benefits payments and business taxation and tax credits.
Rates and eligibility
The key determinant is the age of your staff: If they are under 25, you must pay the National Minimum Wage. If they are aged 25 and over, you must pay the National Living Wage.
National Minimum Wage (NMW)
There are four hourly rates in law and they are increased annually on 1 October for all staff. Today, BMF members ought to be paying:
16 to 17-year old rate = £3.87
- Youth Development Rate for those aged 18-20 = £5.30
- Adult Rate for those aged 21-24 = £6.70
- Apprentice Rate = £3.30
The Apprentice Rate applies to:
all apprentices in their first year and
- 16 to 18-year olds in any year of the apprenticeship.
Otherwise, apprentices are entitled to the rate that relates to their age. If you provide staff accommodation, it can be taken into account at a daily rate of £5.35. These hourly rates will rise again on 1 October in line with above-inflation increases announced in the March 2016 Budget.
National Living Wage (NLW)
The Government has introduced a new hourly rate for all full and part-time staff aged 25 and over. The National Living Wage with effect from 1 April 2016, at a starting rate of £7.20. It is, in effect, a 50p premium on the NMW Adult Rate and is now the top rate of the five statutory rates. Over time, ministers will ratchet the NLW up every April so that it reaches over £9 by 2020 - in other words, a legally-enforceable 6% year-on-year pay increase.
Annual uprating is due to be aligned in April 2017 because at present, NMW increases occur in October, whereas NLW occur in April. This is sensible, but it means that until next April, there are different dates for increases, depending on staff age.
The Conservatives are determined to see through these changes that were in the General Election Manifesto. The HMRC will enforce rates more vigorously than before, with harsher penalties. Employers found guilty:
will have to pay arrears owed, plus a penalty, up to a maximum penalty of £20,000 per worker
- are likely to be disqualified from being a company director for 15 years
- will automatically be ‘named and shamed’ by the Government.
HMRC’s enforcement budget is being doubled and a new team established to bring criminal prosecutions against firms that do not pay the correct rate. Given other policies like protecting the term ‘apprenticeship’ from misuse by dodgy training providers and the Apprenticeships Levy, the HMRC is bound to focus on enforcing rates and rules for apprentices. NB: after apprentices aged 24+ finish their first year, they become entitled to the National Living Wage (£7.20), not the Apprentice Rate (£3.30).
The Minimum Wage was flagship Labour Party policy at the 1997 General Election and became law in April 1999. The Conservatives have now gone further and ministers have begun a complex set of policy, tax and regulatory changes (all at the same time) to boost productivity. Mr Osborne wants to correct an anomaly where taxpayers subsidise employers who pay low wages.
To offset the impact, the Chancellor is exempting small firms from National Insurance Contributions and cutting Corporation Tax to 17% by April 2020. Mr Osborne argues that higher wages lead to greater spending that would ultimately lead to the creation of more jobs in the wider economy. But others are not so sure. The Office for Budget Responsibility warns of the hidden cost of ‘wage spill-over’. This is where employers have to boost other staff wages to maintain pay bands - especially if they have no choice, for example, if set out in employment contracts.
A furore caused by businesses that withdrew benefits like Sunday and Bank Holiday pay, overtime, and time off in lieu for unsociable hours has erupted at Westminster. A 130,000-strong petition calling for B&Q to ditch its changes led to a House of Commons’ debate. MPs revealed tactics used by firms to lessen the impact by clawing back allowances or premiums.
The Government is taking a firm line and is putting pressure on companies. On ITV, the Chancellor warned that by cutting perks, firms are not acting in the spirit of the law and they should abide by their responsibilities. Replying to the debate, Business Minister Nick Boles urged MPs to tell him of firms not upholding the spirit of the law, so ministers can embarrass employers and apply pressure so they live up to their legal obligations.
To conclude, the BMF has no problem with the National Living Wage. The last BMF Remuneration Survey showed that average wages for merchants’ staff are £16,000- 20,000 pa. For managers, salaries go up to £30,000 or beyond. BMF members tend to offer better terms and conditions than DIY retailers. When the B&Q leak broke, the BMF wrote to “The Times” to give a more balanced view of our supply chain. We emphasised that BMF merchants have a much bigger share of the market than B&Q – approximately 4,500 outlets compared to their 750 stores.
No-one fully knows what the impact will be in relation to pay, productivity and employment. The Government admits it is likely to mean job losses. The National Living Wage will raise the pay of entry-level workers to (as yet) untested levels. One aspect is certain: if you already pay over the legal minimum, the NLW will catch up with you. Higher pay you offer today will be eroded over time and no longer act as a premium to retain or recruit staff. For more information, please go to www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage or www.livingwage.gov.uk.
The official HM Government webpage that gives statutory guidance to employers is at: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage