A former staff member of a major Welsh nightclub company claims she was asked to perform cleaning work while on furlough.
Collette Meredith worked as a cleaner for NP Clubs Ltd which ran five bars and clubs including The Courtyard on Cambrian Road, in Newport, until their closure in October 2020.
The 52-year-old claims she was placed on furlough under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in late March, 2020, but was asked to perform at least two weeks of “voluntary” cleaning work at the clubs in April.
Under the terms of the scheme, furloughed employees are not permitted to complete voluntary work which “either makes money for, or provides services to, their employer or such an organisation” during the hours they are on furlough.
Collette claims she worked for between three and six hours, five days a week for “two or three weeks” to clean up after workmen who were replacing flooring in The Courtyard, beginning around the week commencing April 20, 2020.
She claims she was told by her boss that the work would be “voluntary” and she would not be paid any extra for it because she was on furlough, with the UK Government paying 80% of her wages.
NP Clubs Ltd director Iftekhar Harris denies the allegation.
Collette said she had been working as a cleaner for NP Clubs for about six years prior to being furloughed in March, 2020.
She said she was at home when she received a call from Mr Harris, known as Iffy, asking if she would come to help clean up after workmen who had been replacing flooring in The Courtyard.
“I had a call off Iffy asking if I could come in to clean but because it’s on furlough it will be done voluntarily,” she said.
“It was kind of in the manner of ‘Collette, we need your help, come down here’.
“Iffy had maintenance guys in Courtyard and they had ripped up the flooring and there was roughly about an inch thick of dust from where they ripped up. It was like cement dust and that and it was absolutely everywhere.
“He even said because of the furlough I would not get paid.
“It varied between three and six hours. Five days a week I was going there. I would say that happened for two or three weeks and then, gradually, it became less. I just stopped then.
“He asked me personally.”
Collette claims she cannot recall the exact day the phone call was made and the working arrangement was established, nor the exact day she started.
But she said she took photographs of the interior of the club on the morning of April 24 and sent them to a friend. She said this was about the third day she had travelled to the club to clean.
“I can remember coming in and seeing it and thinking oh my god,” she said.
“It was mainly to send to a friend because she couldn’t come in to help and it was to say ‘look at the mess the guys have left’. Look at it all. It’s all over the place. I took photographs just to prove to her how bad it was.”
The Courtyard, Cotton Club, Blind Tiger, Mojos, and The Lounge were all closed following an announcement by owner Iftekhar Harris in October last year.
The closure came just a week after Newport City Council’s licensing sub-committee suspended the licence of The Courtyard for breaches of coronavirus regulations.
The rules you have to adhere to over coronavirus:
Last week, former staff members claimed they still had not received redundancy pay or payment for holiday allowance accrued during their employment with the company, amounting to thousands of pounds in some cases.
Some also claimed the company failed to make contributions to their workplace pension for eight months prior to their redundancy, and they were not given a paid notice period.
Collette claimed she was also owed money in unpaid pension contributions, holiday pay, and for her notice period.
“I’m pissed off, excuse my French,” she said.
“We bent backwards helping him out and then he goes and does the dirty on us.”
According to guidance on the UK Government website, furloughed workers are permitted to volunteer for another employer or organisation during the hours they are on furlough.
However, the guidance reads: “During the hours they are on furlough, employees are not permitted to volunteer for their own employer or an organisation linked or associated to their employer, where their volunteering either makes money for, or provides services to, their employer or such an organisation.”
At the beginning of July, 2020 the “flexible furlough” scheme was brought in, which did allow companies to bring furloughed workers back to work on a part-time basis. However, this occurred at least two months after Collette Meredith claimed she completed work for NP Clubs while on furlough.
Iftekhar Harris, who is the sole listed director of NP Clubs according to Companies House, denied he asked Collette Meredith to work while claiming furlough through HMRC.
Mr Harris claimed he offered employees opportunities to change their roles within his companies and provided them access to training.
“I never asked her to clean Courtyard,” he said.
“What I asked her to do was to come and get some training.
“First of all, I don’t phone people and ask them to do work. That’s not my role. I don’t do that.”
Asked if it was his position that the staff member was lying, Mr Harris said: “Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s absolute b****cks. All of them were asked to get training.
“Every single one of them was asked to get training but they wanted to sit at home and do nothing.
“We know the rules.”
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He added: “All staff were offered jobs in Cardiff. They didn’t want the jobs in Cardiff. They didn’t want to work restaurant or take away jobs. They didn’t want to work them.
“I had to actually advertise for staff to take on jobs they didn’t want to work on. And that’s the horrible thing about it.
“I wasn’t doing it for me. I don’t need the income off these businesses, I don’t need it. Those businesses were run to make sure that people had jobs.
“The furlough stopped coming in and that’s when it became like Iffy is a terrible guy.”
When Mr Harris was asked if former employees would receive their unpaid pension contributions, he said: “Those things will get resolved soon enough but one of the reasons I have kept quiet about it is because of the steps to try and resolve.
“Very soon I may be in a position where I will be able to make those steps.”
A spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs said the organisation could not comment on individual cases.
He said: “The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is part of the collective national effort to protect jobs. This is taxpayers’ money and fraudulent claims limit our ability to support people and deprive public services of essential funding.
“We’d ask anyone concerned their employer might be abusing the scheme, or anyone with information about suspected fraud, to please contact us. It could be that you’re not being paid what you’re entitled to, an employer might be asking you to work while you’re on furlough, or they may have claimed for times when you were working.
“Reports can be submitted to us entirely anonymously and everything we receive is assessed and a decision made on the most appropriate course of action. We’re not trying to catch people out – if it turns out to be a genuine mistake then we’ll help put it right, and if it’s more serious then we’ll step in.
“These reports are just one way that HMRC identifies fraud. Claims are checked and payments may be withheld or need to be repaid if the claim is based on dishonest or inaccurate information. We won’t hesitate to take criminal action against the most serious cases.”