The government has announced the creation of a new workers’ watchdog to take over protecting the rights of UK workers.
The new body will be responsible for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers.
Currently these tasks are spread across three different bodies.
The new body aims to improve enforcement through better coordination and pooling intelligence.
It is also designed to provide a single, recognisable port of call for workers so they know their rights and can blow the whistle on bad behaviour.
Business minister Paul Scully 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.”
He added that the new watchdog would enable the government to “take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains”.
The government also says the new watchdog will make it possible for vulnerable workers to get the holiday pay and statutory sick pay they are entitled to, without having to go through a lengthy employment tribunal process.
Previously, the rights of UK workers were split into three bodies – the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement.
The new workers’ watchdog will provide guidance to businesses on best practice, complementing existing work already being carried out by independent bodies like the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
It will also have enforcement powers and will continue the government’s existing Naming and Shaming scheme run by the Low Pay Commission, which in December 2020 named 139 businesses for failing to pay the national minimum wage.
The government also announced that it would be ramping up efforts to target abuses specifically in the garment industry, following reports of serious problems including modern slavery, exploitation and other labour abuses.
It is currently considering either creating a Garment Trade Adjudicator to investigate companies’ supply chains, or extending an existing licensing scheme that currently covers employers in the agricultural sector.
The current scheme requires firms that provide workers for agriculture and the fresh produce supply chain to apply for a licence to operate in the industry.
In order to keep their licences, the businesses must pass inspections ensuring they meet the employment standards required by law.
The government warned that it would look to introduce harsher measures if firms failed to comply with employment standards, such as banning the sale of goods from factories where workers were being underpaid.