Government to combine three agencies to create new ‘powerful’ workers’ watchdog

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The government has announced a new workers’ watchdog to protect the rights of workers.

The plans, confirmed in a consultation response, 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.

This will bring the responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers under one roof, with the government claiming that the ‘one-stop shop’ approach will help improve enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling intelligence.

“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,” Business Minister Paul Scully said.

“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 new authority will support businesses by providing guidance on their obligations to staff, complementing the work already carried out by existing authorities such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). The government added that increased enforcement will make sure good businesses aren’t undercut by unscrupulous rival employers who aren’t paying or treating their workers correctly.

The body will also enhance workers’ rights by providing a single, recognisable port of call for workers so they know their rights and can blow the whistle on bad behaviour.

As well as enforcing all existing powers belonging to the three agencies, the watchdog will have a new 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.

The new body will continue the Naming and Shaming scheme, which calls out companies who fail to pay workers what they are owed and can hit rogue 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 employed through agencies or by gangmasters in the agricultural sector.