Today the government has announced the publication of its response to consultation on establishing a new single enforcement body for employment rights, and confirmed that a new workers’ watchdog will be set up.
The consultation dates back to July 2019, and was one of a myriad of consultations published in a flurry of activity in the final days of Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister.
The government’s announcement today comes on the heels of other statements, made by the government at the end of May 2021, that other consultation proposals would also be progressed – see our Be Aware of 25 May 2021 – suggesting that we may now, finally, be starting to see some movement on employment law reform.
The key points to note from today’s response are:
- There will be a single regulatory body for tackling modern slavery and national minimum wage breaches, and ensuring vulnerable workers get the statutory holiday and sick pay they are entitled to without having to go through a lengthy tribunal process;
- This new body will combine the existing Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement team to facilitate better co-ordination and pooling of intelligence;
- The aim of the new body is to improve enforcement and ensure both employees and businesses know where to go for help on workers’ rights. The new body will provide guidance on best practice and 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;
- Action will be taken against businesses who turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains;
- The current naming and shaming scheme will continue to highlight employers who fail to pay their workers what they are owed and extend to cover other regulations protecting the pay of workers employed through agencies or by gangmasters in the agricultural sector.
The new watchdog body will be set up through primary legislation, “when parliamentary time allows” and, in the meantime, fuller details are being developed in partnership with the existing enforcement bodies. For now, therefore, employers should take steps to audit, document and, if appropriate, remedy their current practices and keep a watching brief for developments on the watchdog’s progress.