Maria is Italian and has been living and working in the UK for several years. For almost two years she was employed by a cleaning company which provides cleaning services for a large department store. She had an unhappy experience working for them and felt that she was treated very unfairly by them.
Initially she was asked to cover a holiday absence and was expected to work for 12 hours every day, six days a week for about a month which she found exhausting. She was paid £7.50 an hour. Once this initial period was over, the hours dropped substantially and Maria found she was effectively on a zero hours contract (although she wasn’t provided with a written contract until much later). There were long periods when she wasn’t called by the company to work which was frustrating because she needed the income very badly. Several times she was provided with her shift rota for the week, only to arrive each day and told that she was no longer needed. The thirty pounds weekly travel pass that she had bought was never reimbursed.
Sometimes when Maria worked it would be for a four hour shift in which she was expected to clean three floors of the large department store (including six bathrooms) either with one other person or on her own. It was impossible to clean the area during the allotted time so Maria would have to spend longer on the job but was never paid for those extra hours. This meant that she was effectively being paid at an hourly rate well below the minimum wage. The work sometimes made Maria ill but when she took time off to recover she was never paid in lieu. Over one 12 month period Maria was underpaid every time except once. She was required to sign a rota book both when she arrived and when she left work, but the book disappeared and she was told that no record was kept of the hours she had logged over the previous weeks and months. It was never made clear to Maria whether she was entitled to holiday pay and she took just 12 days during one year for which she wasn’t paid, which deterred her from taking any more time off.
Maria does not speak fluent English and could not afford to pay for legal advice and she therefore struggled to assert her rights with her employer. The company refused to acknowledge any of her grievances and even told her not to speak to a lawyer. Luckily she was referred to the LawWorks Unpaid Wages Clinic where a volunteer lawyer, who had been trained by LawWorks and also spoke fluent Italian, was able to pursue her claim for unpaid wages through the Employment Tribunal. The volunteer, supervised by the LawWorks in-house employment lawyer, was able to work with Maria to present her case against her employer. The employer decided to settle the case rather than face a hearing and Maria was awarded over £2,700, which was the total amount she had claimed.
Maria is very grateful for the support of LawWorks and says, “the lawyer worked extremely hard on my case and without him I would not have been able to recover any money or even have been able to leave my job”. She remains very angry with the way she was treated by her former employer, and worries on behalf of her friends who are still working for the company and feel trapped by their circumstances. LawWorks has offered assistance to them via Maria and hopes this offer will be taken up.