MOVES by a York restaurant owner to borrow back money from employees' pay packets have come fire from the city's MP.

Rachael Maskell, York Central MP, criticised the decision by Tomahawk Steakhouse to ask staff to lend the business money to help it get through the coming months of restrictions.

As reported, the speciality restaurant chain said it had asked staff to sign up to a voluntary agreement to help cover the cost of Employer NIC/Pension amounts, in the form of a loan.

Its priority was to protect its team and business after a challenging year, said the company in a statement.

The chain whose branches include York, Beverley and Husthwaite in North Yorkshire, said all staff had agreed.

However, Ms Maskell has submitted a number of Written Parliamentary Questions to the Treasury to question whether this is lawful or the intent of Government, and what recourse was available to staff.

The Treasury Minister, Jesse Norman MP, the Government’s finance secretary, responded: "Employers are required to pay staff all the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) grant they receive from HMRC to cover 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 per month. The employer is still required to meet the employer’s National Insurance and pension contributions.

"Employers cannot enter into any transaction with the worker which reduces the wages below the amount claimed.

"This includes any administration charge, fees or other costs in connection with the employment.

"Where an employee had authorised their employer to make deductions from their salary, these deductions can continue while the employee is furloughed provided that these deductions are not administration charges, fees or other costs in connection with the employment.

"Whether to furlough an employee and claim CJRS support is a matter for the employer, and they will need to discuss and make any changes to their employee’s contract by agreement.

"HMRC stand ready to support taxpayers in financial distress as a result of COVID-19, and urge any employers that may be struggling to pay their outstanding tax liabilities to contact HMRC as soon as possible.

"HMRC will check claims. Payments may be withheld or need to be paid back if a claim is found to be fraudulent or based on incorrect information, or if payments are not being used as required by the scheme. Employees can report suspected fraud in relation to the CJRS on”

Ms Maskell said: "The Minister has responded to my Parliamentary Question to state that employers cannot enter into arrangements that reduce the value of furlough payments - which clearly they have.

“The Government made provision for employers to take out a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILs) for companies who are financially challenged as a result of the pandemic. Tomahawk should be going to the bank for help, not the staff.

"I thank the GMB for challenging the company and trying to get this resolved for the staff. Trade unions are there to ensure that there is justice for working people, and I encourage anyone who is in work to join a union. As this case has proved, workers never know when an employer will side-step the law or cause difficulties at work."