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Working Lunch Monday, 31 March, 2003, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Cutting corners on the slopes
Austrian ski-resort
Last week, the government announced an increase to the national minimum wage. A move which garnered a mixed reaction from workers and employers' groups.

Unions say the rise is too little, employers say that the move will cost jobs.

But whether you agree with it or not, it's the law. So if you're an employee and feel that you're entitled to the minimum wage what should you do?

One Working Lunch viewer has been in touch with us because she feels her daughter is being exploited.

She's working as a chalet girl in the Austrian Alps and is paid just 150 a month. That's less than 2 per hour for a 40 hour week.

And while she gets her accommodation and food paid for, plus a subsidised ski-pass, mum Shelagh Dean thinks her employer, UK holiday company First Choice is flouting minimum wage legislation.

Austria is a very expensive place to live and the result is that most months I end up subsidising her in some way

Shelagh Dean

According to the Austrian embassy, any person working in Austria would be entitled to the relevant minimum wage.

The wage that someone like Shelagh's daughter could expect in Austria would be 800 euros or 550 per month after deductions.

The problem is that Shelagh's daughter is not employed according to Austrian law, though she should be. The hotels in many resorts are rented and the British firms bring their own staff with them.

While it might be difficult, the Austrian Embassy urges Shelagh's daughter to get in touch with the trade union for gastronomy to pursue the case on her behalf.

Minimum wage facts
4.50/hour or 9,360 per year
3.80/hour or 7,904 per year for 18-21year olds
Back in this country, the TUC believe that the government is doing a pretty good job of policing the minimum wage. But because the system relies on individuals blowing the whistle on their employer, there will always be companies who fall through the net.

And according to the TUC's employment spokesperson, Sarah Veale, the hotel and catering industry is notoriously bad for not paying the national minimum wage.

Sarah Veale, TUC
We're always outraged by employers trying to get away with not paying the national minimum wage

Sarah Veale

First Choice say that the experience of a season in a ski resort is second to none and that there are added benefits that do not compare to those available to a similar position in the UK.

The Inland Revenue say that while accomodation costs can be offset against the minimum wage, these are capped at 24.40 a week.

If you think you're being underpaid, you have two options.

Call the Inland Revenue's minimum wage helpline on 0845 6000 678. You can do this anonymously if you prefer.

The Inland Revenue will then investigate your case and where necessary bring the employer to book; making them pay the proper wages and/or fine the company.

Alternatively, and usually this is as a last resort, you can take your employer to an industrial tribunal.

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