An investigation by the Observer has found that a recruitment agency supplying warehouse workers consistently underpaid them for work done, plus did not give their statutory holiday entitlement. Mach Recruitment supplied the workers on zero-hours contracts to help process orders for PrettyLittleThing, Boohoo, The Very Group, Sainsbury’s and Currys.
Arrogance of ignoring workers claims
Shockingly, Mach Recruitment has not engaged in any of the 12 employment tribunals it has been taken to in the past two years, and failed to answer calls and emails from the tribunal service, according to the judgments. In a statement, the firm blamed the communication and pay issues on Covid-19, adding that the claims were unfounded and that it was challenging the rulings. The cases resulted in the agency being ordered to pay money to workers, including unpaid wages, unauthorised salary deductions or a failure to give paid holiday.
As well as examining cases that went to tribunal, the Observer spoke to eight former Mach workers who were at the company between 2020 and 2022 and analysed evidence including pay slips, contracts and text and email correspondence that suggest the practice of underpayment is widespread. If they are doing this on an industrial scale, Mach Recruitment would be effectively reducing the cost of supplying workers, so enabling them to operate more profitably than their competitors. This could be why Mach has grown rapidly in the past two years. Records show the company had an average of 9,542 temporary workers a month on its books in 2021, up from 5,783 in 2020, while its turnover almost doubled from £110m to £200m and its profit before tax trebled to £3.8m.
Determination increases workers chances of being paid
The Observer found that workers’ determination increases the chances of them receiving their monies owed. Mo Ajala, 23, who was hired to pick orders in PrettyLittleThing’s Sheffield warehouse during the pandemic, said he fought for more than six months to be paid for a week of night shifts. Despite repeated phone calls and texts to Mach’s offices, the business graduate was ignored. He was eventually paid £289 after raising the case with Acas, and once again, Mach did not engage with the process.
Lalit Yadav, 25, a masters student from India, provided documents to support a claim when he noticed he had not been paid for an eight-hour night shift he says he worked in June. He claims Mach told him it needed additional documents to process the payment, so he supplied them, but that he was then told he had not worked that shift. Yadav says he called Mach repeatedly to try to resolve the issue but was passed between members of staff who either said they couldn’t help or promised to but failed to take any action. Eventually he gave up.
Others say they were only paid after messaging the firm’s executives on LinkedIn or by posting on the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Holiday entitlement withheld
Agency workers have a statutory right to 5.6 weeks paid holiday annually, however Mach did not ensure their workers received their entitlement. Lee Robson, 47, who worked night shifts at Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse until October 2021, says he didn’t take any holiday during that time, so was expecting a lump sum that would tide him over until he started his new job. But when he got his final pay packet the holiday pay wasn’t included, he says. When he called the Mach office he says he was told he needed to fill in a form, but even after doing so he says he wasn’t paid. “I was calling the numbers for the recruiters and they were ignoring me, blocking my number or passing me on to someone else,” he said.
One day, after about three months, the £380 arrived in his bank account without explanation. He believes Mach paid him because he was “pushy” but that not everyone would not have gone to the same lengths. “It was becoming a bit of a nightmare,” he said.
In another case, Steve Smalley said he did not automatically receive holiday he was owed after leaving his role at a warehouse for Currys in Newark, Lincolnshire, in January. When he raised the issue with Mach he says he got “blanked left, right and centre”. He claims he only received the outstanding £180 in April after messaging a senior manager on LinkedIn in an attempt to avoid going to court.
Response from Mach Recruitment
Tom Zyzak, managing director at Mach Recruitment, said: “While we are aware that there a number of rule 21 judgments, whereby decisions were made automatically due to no response being received, a large proportion of these are down to claims raised during the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown periods when offices, sites and business were closed down. When we were made aware of these, we immediately began the legal process of challenging the claims, as we believe them to be unfounded. The UK court system is experiencing a severe backlog of all tribunal cases so many of these are still being processed.”
When asked for further information the company said it was “unable to go into a lot of detail due to them being ongoing”, but that it was challenging all of the rulings.
Zyzak said all workers were paid holiday and bonuses owed to them and that Mach worked closely with clients to ensure wages were paid correctly. He said the company was aware of “a number of issues that impacted on our normally swift resolution time” and had “worked hard over the last six months” to address them, including expanding its teams and building new systems to “monitor and resolve all queries in a timely fashion”. “We process payroll for up to 15,000 colleagues weekly and our colleagues have multiple communication channels to escalate any queries accordingly,” he said.