New watchdog to protect workers' rights

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Date: 8 June 2021

A young seamstress is working in a clothing factory

The government has announced plans for a new body that will take over responsibility for enforcing the rules on modern slavery, the minimum wage and other employee rights.

The new watchdog - which has yet to be given a name - has been established to clamp down on workplace abuse and provide a one-stop-shop where employees and businesses can go for help on workers' rights. It will also make it easier for employees to get the holiday and sick pay they are entitled to without having to resort to legal action.

Until now, responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers had been spread across three different bodies. Now it is being brought under one roof and the government has pledged that businesses that break the rules will have "nowhere to hide".

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) says the watchdog will provide a "single, recognisable port of call for workers so they know their rights and can blow the whistle on bad behaviour" as well as helping businesses to do the right thing by providing guidance.

As well as enforcing all existing powers, the new body 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.

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."

He added: "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 body will continue the naming and shaming scheme that calls out companies who fail to pay workers what they are owed and which can hit rogue employers with fines of up to £20,000 per worker. The watchdog will also scrutinise sectors where abuse is most common, including construction, agriculture and the garment industry. The plans could include a future Garment Trade Adjudicator which would have the power to ban goods made in factories where workers have been repeatedly underpaid.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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