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Government commits to creating new enforcement body to protect workers

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Last month the Government committed to establishing a single enforcement body for certain employment rights that will see the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, HM Revenue & Customs National Minimum Wage Enforcement and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority join forces to protect workers and well-meaning employers.

Why is a new single enforcement body needed?

In its response paper to the consultation, the Government explained that the “overriding objective…is to significantly improve the government’s ability to protect vulnerable workers and ensure they receive their employment rights.”

Despite legislative reforms in recent years, including the Immigration Act 2016, the Government considers that as things stand, enforcement of employment rights is “fragmented across multiple different bodies” and as a result:

  • Workers and employers find it difficult to know where to go for help,
  • Visibility of the work undertaken by these bodies currently is limited, and
  • Having a clear intelligence picture across the labour market is compromised.

How will the body operate?

As an amalgamated body, it will operate within a wider remit than the three separate bodies currently work within. It is intended that it will:

  • Provide support to businesses seeking to comply with the rules, for example, through the publication of technical guidance that complements Acas’s own,
  • Pool intelligence to provide a comprehensive picture of labour market enforcement,
  • Use resources to address new and emerging priorities,
  • Co-ordinate enforcement action and utilise new powers and sanctions to deal with non-compliance, and
  • Work closely with other enforcement agencies including health and safety, the Pensions Regulator and local authorities.

What enforcement powers will the body have?

According to the Government’s response paper, the body’s powers will be wide-ranging. Compliance notices will be introduced along with new civil penalties for non-compliance.  The naming and shaming scheme in respect of businesses breaching minimum wage rules will be extended, with this approach set to be replicated for the enforcement of holiday pay for vulnerable workers and Statutory Sick Pay.

While it is intended that the Home Office will retain its responsibilities to keep and monitor the register of modern slavery statements, the new body will have powers to impose financial penalties on organisations who have fallen foul of the rules.

What happens now?

The Government recognises that these remain “high level proposals” at the moment so it’s not clear when we can expect to see the enforcement body in action.

In its response, the Government explained that as with other to-do’s on the political agenda, the creation of the body will be subject to the standard government approval process and the need for legislation. In the meantime, it intends to work with existing enforcement bodies to firm up the details.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to the ways we work and the labour market in general. In light of this, perhaps the creation of this body can be expected sooner rather than later but at this stage it’s simply too early to tell. We’ll be keeping an eye on progress over the coming months.

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