A LAW firm owned by two leading Coventry councillors has been taken to a tribunal over claims it paid a worker below the statutory minimum wage at just £20 a day.
It is despite council deputy leader Phil Townshend and fellow Labour cabinet member Abdul Khan voting for a key Labour council priority to ‘tackle poverty’ by raising the minimum wage for council workers.
In May last year Coun Townshend became deputy under new council leader Ann Lucas whose key manifesto pledge was to raise the salaries of the poorest paid council workers above the national minimum wage.
Labour council leaders claimed the measure would set an example to other employers, and urged other firms to pay workers the Living Wage.
Documents lodged at Companies House show Couns Townshend and Khan are the only partners at The Law Partnership Solicitors LLP, which moved its registered office in September from High Street, Coleshill, to Foleshill Road, Coventry.
A preliminary tribunal hearing in Birmingham on October 30 heard how Aaron Matthews was employed as a litigation assistant on £20 a day at the Coleshill office following an oral agreement about his employment terms between 2012 and this year.
It is claimed the law firm agreed to pay him £4,000 in back payments after the tribunal ruled he had been legally entitled to the statutory national minimum wage.
Mr Matthews, said to be unqualified, claimed he was owed £9,995 in unpaid wages. The tribunal was told his hourly pay was only £2.67 an hour.
Asked by the Coventry Observer this week if the case had been settled, Coun Townshend said only: “There is a confidentiality clause in the agreement under a tribunal order which I do not wish to break.”
Coun Townshend went into practice with his fellow councillor Khan two years ago following the insolvency of his former Coventry-based law firm, Townshends LLP, which had owed £339,000 to HM Revenue and Customs at the time.
Some parts of the business were moved to Coun Khan’s Law Partnership Solicitors firm. Townshends LLP entered liquidation in January last year.
Coun Townshend represented his own firm at the Aaron Mathews tribunal hearing and raised a legal technicality concerning Mr Matthews’ claims.
Judge David Goodier told the tribunal he had to decide whether Matthews had been an employee or a worker in ruling whether the assistant’s claim could go to a full tribunal hearing.
The judge ruled Mr Matthews – who sometimes ‘grumbled’ about his low pay for junior clerical tasks – had been a ‘worker’ and had therefore been entitled in law to the national minimum wage.
Coun Townshend and barrister Russell Holland, who represented Matthews, agreed to the judge’s suggestion of a brief adjournment for the two sides to discuss wehther an agreement could be reached.
Mr Holland later announced the law firm had agreed to pay Matthews £4,000 before November 27, and would later decide whether to pay the rest, once ‘certain calculations’ were made.
A third partner in the Law Partnership Solicitors, Gary Glover, left the company in September last year.
Coun Abdul Khan.