A new watchdog group will be created to protect workers’ rights and clamp down on workplace abuse, the UK government announced this week.
A comprehensive new authority will assume responsibilities for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers, which currently are spread across three different bodies: the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement.
As well as enforcing all existing powers belonging to the three agencies, the new body will be empowered to ensure vulnerable workers get the holiday pay and statutory sick pay they are entitled to — without having to go through a lengthy employment tribunal process.
“This government has been absolutely clear that we will do whatever we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights,” Business Minister Paul Scully said. “The vast majority of businesses want to do right by their staff, but there are a minority who seem to think the law doesn’t apply to them. Exploitative practices like modern slavery have no place in society.
“This new workers’ watchdog will help us crack down on any abuses of workers’ rights and take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains, while providing a one-stop shop for employees and businesses wanting to understand their rights and obligations,” Scully added.
The new body will call out companies that fail to pay workers what they are owed and can hit rogue employers with fines of up to £20,000 per worker. This enforcement activity will be extended to cover other regulations protecting the pay of workers employed through agencies or by gangmasters in the agricultural sector.
To help businesses understand the rules, the new body will provide guidance on best practices, complementing the work already carried out by existing authorities such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. It will seek to build strong links with community and worker groups to spread awareness and support engagement with at-risk groups, including the low-paid and those in sectors like construction and agriculture that could be at higher risk of abuse.
The government warned that if brands’ behaviour does not improve, it could introduce harsher measures, including bans on goods made in factories where workers have been underpaid.
The news was welcome by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, the professional body representing the UK’s recruitment industry. “It’s good to hear that the government is starting to move forward with its plan to create a single labor market enforcement body — something we have long asked for,” said REC Deputy CEO Kate Shoesmith. “This single body should encourage closer collaboration between the different strands of labor market enforcement and make it easier for workers to redress issues. The REC has also called for a similar one-stop shop for umbrella companies.”
The new enforcement body will be established through primary legislation when parliamentary time allows.