The future of the left since 1884

Work and Business: My life below the minimum wage

My name is Sarah and I have been working on and off as a waitress for almost 10 years. I have worked in nine restaurants in Scotland: two in Glasgow, four in Dundee, and three in the Scottish highlands (one...


My name is Sarah and I have been working on and off as a waitress for almost 10 years. I have worked in nine restaurants in Scotland: two in Glasgow, four in Dundee, and three in the Scottish highlands (one of which I was co-manager). Hospitality jobs are hard to come by and I’ve found myself on less than minimum wage more than once.

I’m currently studying to become a teacher at the University of Dundee. In the summer of 2013 I started working at an Italian restaurant in the town centre. The owners and I agreed that I would work 30-40 hours a week and earn about £280 a week. I was told that I would be paid cash in hand every Monday.

After three weeks, I got my first pay for my first week. I had worked about 30 hours that week and I got £100 (including tips). I was disappointed – that worked out at roughly just £3.33 an hour, when minimum wage was £6.18 at that time and shouldn’t have included tips by law. So I queried them about it and they said that I was getting paid less because that was my ‘training’ week. They had not specified that I was training that week – and besides, even if I was training, I am entitled to get minimum wage. It was then that I said to them that I was not happy, and that if I do not at least get minimum wage then I will leave. They were not prepared to pay me that, so I left. A week later I went back to get my further wage package that I was due, which they gave me. In total I was paid about £70 less than minimum wage over the three weeks that I worked.

To support my studies I had to continue working, so I found another job at an Indian restaurant near my place. I liked the friendly atmosphere there, but found the boss difficult to read. I asked my manager about pay, inquiring ‘What happens to our tips, and how are we paid?’ But he explained in a way that was hard for me to understand (and I don’t think this was necessarily because of a language barrier). I think he was just trying to come across that he was big fair boss man who knew he was doing things by the book. But he wasn’t. What I took from this conversation – although it was never clear – was that they also used the tips to make up my minimum wage.

Not being paid the minimum wage did make things very hard for me. As a student self-funding my second degree, I need every penny I make to pay towards the cost of living: rent, bills, food, books, travel to university.

It frustrates and angers me when employers do not pay minimum wage, or use the tips towards it. It is my hard earned work that I deserved to be paid for, and it is corrupt if owners or bosses are taking home even a small percentage of that.

Complaining wasn’t really an option, though. I needed the job. And every night I always got fed, which I did appreciate, and it is for this reason that I didn’t make a fuss. The curries I got for two shifts actually fed me for three days of the week, and that made a difference to my budget. Still, it angers me that the company might be using the fact that they give food to employees (which costs the company very little), to in some way make up for the fact that they are not paying the minimum that they are required to by law.

I definitely think that enforcing minimum wage is something that political parties should prioritise. I left the Italian and Indian restaurant jobs because I was sick of being treated what felt like a slave. Yet I was able to because I have a student loan to fall back on and, if needs be, a supportive family who would be able to help me out. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have that. Too many places get away with paying less than they should and poor and vulnerable people continue to be the worst hit, as ever.

Names have been changed at the request of the author. 

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