Contract caterer Sodexo is to reimburse "tens of thousands" of staff members on its national minimum wage monthly payroll after it underpaid them, Caterer has learnt.
The catering giant came under fire from the GMB union, which said it had been miscalculating its national minimum wage formulas.
"Sodexo has underpaid tens of thousands of low-paid workers to the tune of £41.03 per year. This amounts to an underpayment of 2p per hour on the national minimum wage of £5.73 per hour," the GMB said.
Sodexo has responded by releasing information about a £10m implementation project of a new SAP HR payment system which will function across its whole business portfolio. It said the new system, which is being rolled out until its completion in April 2010, "will give Sodexo the flexibility to reflect the complexity of its diverse workforce and payment schedules".
"Since GMB and Sodexo first investigated the issue two months ago, we have been actively working to identify the monthly paid workers who are on the national minimum wage," Sodexo said. "We are continuing to work with the GMB to ensure that its members' queries are addressed via the appropriate channels."
Sodexo added that prior to full implementation of SAP HR, it would make "one interim reconciliation payment to relevant staff in the September payroll". Subsequent periods will either be covered by making a further reconciliation payment or through a change in the applicable formula upon the implementation of SAP HR.
GMB organiser Andy Prendergast said: "We are pleased that Sodexo appears to be dealing with this matter and has committed to talk to us to address the issue."
However, Stephen Minall, director of contract catering consultancy Moving Foods, warned the underpayment issue was part of a broader problem affecting the contract catering sector. "There have been question marks surrounding our whole industry for some time regarding the abuse of staffing for profit reasons," he said.
"For years some caterers have been taking advantage of payroll opportunities - ultimately charging clients the full rate of employment cost but not passing it on to the employees themselves. It's a practice that will eventually bring our industry down or force the government to step in with yet more legislation, which no one wants."
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