Workers’ watchdog to monitor labour abuses at UK firms

8 June 2021

The UK government is set to establish a new workers’ watchdog in order to tackle modern slavery and enforce minimum wage.

Under plans from the government, responsibility for protecting workers will be brought under one roof by creating a “comprehensive new authority, which will ensure businesses that break the rules have nowhere to hide”.

Currently responsibilities are split across the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement.

The watchdog will help improve enforcement through better coordination and pooling intelligence as well as creating a recognisable port of call for workers to find out their rights and blow the whistle on bad behaviour, the government said. 

Increased enforcement will ensure good businesses aren’t undercut by “unscrupulous rival employers who aren’t paying or treating their workers correctly”, the government said.

The body will have the ability 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.

If brands’ behaviour doesn’t improve, the government warned it could introduce harsher measures, including “bans on goods made in factories where workers have been underpaid”.

Paul Scully, business minister, said: “This government has been absolutely clear that we will do whatever we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights.

“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.

The move comes after brands such as Boohoo and Quiz came under fire last year for labour abuses in their supply chains, specifically at garment factories in Leicester. 

Earlier this year, Boohoo said it had cut ties with over 400 suppliers after a report expressed concerns over the retailer’s ability to monitor this number of suppliers. 

The government said it is further exploring measures to target abuses in the garment sector. 

“Options being examined include creating a Garment Trade Adjudicator to investigate companies’ supply chains, or extending the licencing scheme that currently covers employers in the agricultural sector,” it said.

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