Can my employer deny me a pay rise?

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Q I WORK for a cleaning services company as a cleaner doing night shifts. The company has between 80 and 100 cleaners in various sites across the city. I have been on the same rate of pay for 18 months and some staff haven't had an increase for more than two and a half years. No-one in the company ever mentions pay rises. Is this legal? We do not have a recognised trade union.

Another concern is holiday entitlement. Up until this year we had 20 days - 12 days annual and eight statutory days - but this year the company has reduced our days to 19. Can they do this?

A MANY people think that there is a legal entitlement to a pay rise, whereas in fact there isn't usually one. Sometimes an employer will put a clause in the contract of employment to say that there will be an annual pay review. Of course, a pay review is not the same as a pay rise. All an employer is doing is promising to have a look at the pay levels to see if for financial reasons or for other reasons, such as staff motivation, they may decide to give the staff a pay rise.

From an employer's point of view, they will need to consider whether there are any hidden implications that may mean they should address the need for a pay rise. For example, they may need to consider whether there are any equal pay issues which need to be addressed (i.e. equal pay between men and women for work of the same or broadly similar nature), whether there are any other discriminatory issues connected with the pay scales, and of course, market forces. If employees feel they are being underpaid, this could lead to staff retention issues in the future.

Concerning your second query about annual holiday entitlement, workers are entitled to four weeks' annual leave per year which is set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998. If you work five days a week this gives you the equivalent of 20 days' annual leave per year and statutory days or bank holidays can go towards making up that entitlement. It does not seem correct that your employer has reduced this entitlement to 19 and if you cannot sort the problem out on an informal basis, you may have to raise a grievance.

• Richard Smith, HR expert at Croner Consulting Scotland