Boots risks minimum wage investigation

Boots could be risking investigation under minimum wage legislation after recruiting hundreds of volunteers to carry out coronavirus testing for the government, employment lawyers have warned. And the Trades Union Congress said that ads for the unpaid posts, which state that applicants must be ready to work at least 32 hours a week testing NHS staff who fear they may have Covid-19, appeared to be “out of kilter” with the spirit of volunteering for the national effort to beat the disease. MP Stewart McDonald wrote to Boots managing director Sebastian James branding the arrangement – revealed on Wednesday by The Independent – as “unacceptable”. The SNP MP for Glasgow South demanded to know whether the company was receiving government payment for the tests or offering its services for free. It is understood that many of the volunteers recruited by Boots are furloughed workers who do not want to take on paid employment for fear of risking their status, under which the state pays 80 per cent of their wages while they cannot do their usual jobs. ____________________________________________________ More on coronavirus: ____________________________________________________ But legal expert Lucy McLynn, head of employment at law firm Bates Wells, said that treating the testers as volunteers “feels pretty abusive” and may fall foul of minimum wage legislation, which is policed by HM Revenue and Customs. Gallery: How countries are edging out of COVID-19 lockdown (Photo Services)  Even as the world continues to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, several countries, where the daily growth of new infections has reduced, are beginning to take tentative steps to ease lockdown measures in order to allow citizens to move freely for the first time in weeks and to revive the economy. “I think Boots are in rather dangerous territory with this, because the time commitment suggests these people are more like workers,” Ms McLynn told The Independent. “HMRC has powers to enforce the Minimum Wage Act and this looks set to be a high-profile arrangement, so they may feel they want to look at it.” A volunteer agreement letter to be signed by those taking part in the scheme states that it is not creating an employment relationship. Employment law barrister Nicola Braganza, of Garden Court Chambers, said the recruitment ads raised “a number of serious concerns”. “They appear to be relying on the goodwill of people to agree to work without pay or the benefit of any employment rights protection,” said Ms Braganza. HMRC guidance for officers states that people described as volunteers may in fact be classed as workers entitled to the minimum wage if they are unable to withdraw their services at any time, if they are subject to requirements, obligations or standards from the organisation involved or if they are receiving training or any payment beyond necessary expenses.