Government announces new workers watchdog to protect the rights of UK workers
The new body will have responsibility for tackling such problems as modern slavery, the enforcement of the minimum wage and the protection of agency workers.
Currently, the responsibility for the compliance of these disciplines is shared between three separate departments: Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement Team. However, the new body will bring these together, creating a new authority, with the idea of improving enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling of intelligence and resources.
The new watchdog also intends to enhance workers’ rights by providing a single point of contact where workers are able to access more easily knowledge regarding their rights and can blow the whistle on employers who exhibit bad behaviour or practices.
The idea is that the body will support businesses to get things right for their workers by providing guidance on their obligations to staff. Where shortcomings are identified, enforcement action will be taken to ensure that those businesses which are compliant have a level playing field in which to operate by enforcing non-compliant rivals to operate within the law.
In addition to supporting the existing powers in situ, the new body will have the ability to ensure vulnerable workers receive the holiday pay and statutory sick pay to which they are entitled without having to go through a lengthy employment tribunal process.
While providing a one-stop shop for workers and businesses wanting to understand their rights and obligations, the Government claims that the new watchdog will help crack down on any abuses of workers’ rights and take action against those companies which turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains.
The new body will continue the Naming and Shaming scheme, which highlights companies who fail to pay workers what they are owed and can hit 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 engaged through agencies or by gangmasters in the agricultural sector.
The new body will also have an educational role and will provide guidance on best practice, complementing work already carried out by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
The idea is for the new body to seek to build links with community and worker groups to spread awareness and support engagement with perceived at-risk groups, including the low-paid.
The Government will also explore further measures to target abuses in the garment sector specifically, following reports of serious problems in the industry.
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