New workers' watchdog to clamp down on workplace abuseby
The government has created a new Single Enforcement Body (SEB) to protect workers rights and enforce national minimum wage, but policy experts have criticised the watchdog remit for omitting umbrella company non-compliance.
The department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced the formation of the new watchdog yesterday (Tuesday 8 June), which brings together three different bodies under one roof.
Early feedback has welcomed the new single enforcement body but there is a concern that it will only come into effect when parliamentary time allows.
The single enforcement body
The new authority will see the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement combined to create a single enforcement body.
In addition to enforcing its existing powers such as the national minimum wage naming and shaming scheme, the new body’s activity also extends to ensuring vulnerable workers get the holiday pay and statutory sick pay they are entitled to. The intervention from the new watchdog means that workers would not have to go through a lengthy employment tribunal process.
The government said the new body will support businesses to do “the right thing” and make sure good businesses aren’t undercut by “unscrupulous rival employers” who are mistreating their workers.
“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,” said business minister Paul Scully.
The new body will work with authorities like Acas to help businesses understand the rules and ensure best practice, as well as building links with community and worker groups to spread awareness with at-risk groups including the low-paid and those in sectors at high risk of abuse such as construction.
The plans follow a consultation into ‘establishing a new single enforcement body for employment rights’ which was published in July 2019.
Established when parliamentary time allows
Campaigner and employment tax expert Rebecca Seeley Harris recognises that SEB is a firm step forward, but she is concerned by the omission of regulating umbrella companies and the fact that it will only be established through primary legislation when parliamentary time allows.
“This does not bode well for those people currently enslaved in gangmaster and unethical supply chains nor the contingent workforce caught up in the umbrella company scandal,” said Seeley Harris.
“We recognise it is a hugely complex area to legislate and will take time to get right, but as independent experts we are uniquely positioned to put forward a coherent plan that achieves both the regulation of umbrella companies and protection of the workers.”
Seeley Harris will continue to press the government to set a timetable for primary legislation. While the statement from BEIS doesn’t specifically mention umbrella companies, she will continue to push for regulation. “At least this step will mean that there is an appropriate regulatory body,” she commented.
Seeley Harris is working with James Poyser from 2017 Accounting Excellence award winners inniAccounts on toughening umbrella company compliance following the BBC’s investigation into mini umbrella company fraud.
Poyser was encouraged by the unveiling of SEB and the prospect of better coordination of enforcement efforts between agencies. “The fact that workers will be able to contact the SEB directly to blow the whistle on exploitation and ensure that they get the holiday pay they are entitled to is a firm step forward in ensuring workers’ rights are protected and abuses in supply chains are stopped.”