The idea of the new Government helpline is that workers who are being mistreated or illegally underpaid can report their employer more easily, allowing the authorities to clamp down on nefarious management practices. There'll also be a high-profile publicity campaign, plus a new Fair Employment Enforcement Board of business and union representatives, tasked with co-ordinating the existing groups that enforce different bits of the current rules (like the Health and Safety Executive and HMRC).
The campaign, announced today by employment relations minister Pat McFadden, is an (admittedly rare) example of unions and businesses joining forces for the common good. Their joint report on the exploitation of vulnerable workers found that many were unaware of their rights and didn’t totally understand which public body was which (we can’t say we blame them – neither do we). Hence why McFadden has promised to spend £6m on an awareness-raising campaign, and brought in a single helpline to allow for a more co-ordinated official effort.
McFadden insists there will now be no hiding place for rogue employers: ‘There are still dark corners of the labour market where rogue employers seek to mistreat their workers and more needs to be done to safeguard people's rights. We want to prevent unscrupulous employers who undercut honest competition and prey on people who are fearful or so desperate to earn a living that they are open to exploitation,’ he said today.
However, the government has resisted union pressure to extend the remit of the current laws. The Gangmaster Licensing Act, which was introduced back in 2004 in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers disaster, only covers the agricultural and food-processing industries – but the TUC argued that workers in the construction, healthcare and hospitality sectors (which are often low-paid and staffed with vulnerable immigrant workers) were equally at risk. ‘The GLA is cleaning up the agriculture and food sectors it covers, and good employers in those sectors have welcomed the assurance that they will not be undercut by the rogue agencies and gangmasters,’ said general secretary Brendan Barber today (although he did welcome the report more generally).
Although the idea of another government body to manage a bunch of other government bodies (a super-quango, if you like) might fill you with horror, the move should increase the pressure on rogue bosses – and that has to be a good thing. After all, agencies that operate like this give everyone else in the sector a bad name...
In today's bulletin:
Taxpayers tapped again as Rock keeps sinking
Hotline for exploited employees
Ryanair spat adds to BAA woes
Captaincy a tough nut to crack for KP
Millionaire shoplifter takes businesses for a ride