HM Revenue and Customs' prosecution rate has been branded "pathetic" after just six UK employers were prosecuted for paying employees less than the minimum wage in the past six years.

But new figures revealed tax authorities found more than 6500 violations.

A freedom of information request from openDemocracy also revealed Boris Johnson's government gave many firms millions in furlough cash despite criticising them over failing to pay the minimum wage.

Pizza Hut, Superdrug and Costco, as well as 136 other companies, were named as "rogue employers" in the government’s most recent list, published in December last year.

Many of these firms were able to claim support through the Government’s furlough scheme. This includes 58 companies that claimed furlough within two months of being criticised.

Pizza Hut claimed up to £5 million under the job retention scheme in December and January, having come under fire for failing to pay some 11,000 workers almost £850,000.

READ MORE: Who's in charge of furlough in Scotland and when does it end?

Food wholesaler Costco claimed £500,000 and failed to pay almost £4000 to 58 workers over the same period.

Superdrug, which claimed up to £3m in furlough, underpaid 2222 workers £15,000 between 2012 and 2017.

The five-star Lowry Hotel in Manchester, which claimed up to £500,000 over the two months, was condemned for underpaying 99 workers £63,000 between 2011 and 2017. Workers in the hospitality industry and care sector are the most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage.

More than than a million workers were cheated out of £100m in wages by their employers between April 2015 and March 2021, according to figures from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

But HMRC said that only six firms were prosecuted for failing to pay the minimum wage in that period.

HMRC claimed the lack of prosecutions was because they took civil action as opposed to taking big businesses to court over the matter.

But the Unite union described the situation as "pathetic".

“The government’s do-nothing approach and the failure to prosecute companies guilty of such practices is effectively a green light to unscrupulous employers to continue to exploit workers by underpaying them,” said ​​Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail.

Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow employment rights and protections secretary, said: "The National Minimum Wage and laws preventing the exploitation of workers aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they’re not effectively enforced.

"In failing to prosecute employers for paying less than the minimum wage, the government has given the green light to these despicable practices."

Top lawyer Jolyon Maugham QC, said: "Government departments think it’s fine for them to ignore Parliament’s will that exploitation of workers be punished with criminal sanction.

“The winners are, of course, the very worst employers who escape meaningful sanction for ripping off the most vulnerable.”

HMRC can issue fines of up to 200% of what is owed to employees for minimum wage violations but the research revealed that, between 2015 and 2020, the average fine was just under 50% of wage arrears.

Some companies caught breaking the law have been allowed to repay arrears without any penalties, and any fines issued can be halved if they are repaid early.

Only 13% of companies paying less than the minimum wage are caught by HMRC, according to research by the Resolution Foundation