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Government announces crack down on rogue employers

Government announces crack down on rogue employers

DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, ENTERPRISE AND REGULATORY REFORM News Release (2008/160) issued by The Government News Network on 5 August 2008

A new Government drive to crack down on rogue employers who abuse vulnerable workers and undercut honest businesses was unveiled today.

The strategy includes a single telephone helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuses to the Government's workplace enforcement agencies, breaking down barriers so agencies can share vital information to catch rogue employers and a £6 million information campaign to raise awareness of employment rights and how to enforce them.

The crack down will be overseen by a new Fair Employment Enforcement Board which will co-ordinate the work of the government enforcement agencies covering minimum wage, health and safety, employment agencies and gangmasters. The new Board will be chaired by the Employment Relations Minister and will include representatives from business and trade unions, as well as the enforcement agencies.

The Vulnerable Workers Enforcement Forum, which was established to examine abuses of employment law, has worked with the Government over the past year to develop a report with key initiatives to protect workers.

Launching the final Forum report, Employment Relations Minister and Forum Chair, Pat McFadden said:

"Compared to a decade ago there are three million more people in work in Britain and they all enjoy more employment rights than they would have in the past. Important minimum standards on wages, paid leave, maternity leave and conditions have been put in place.

"However, as the Forum found, 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.

"It is vital we boost awareness of employment rights and ensure those rights are properly enforced. There should be no hiding place for employers who exploit vulnerable workers and who are not prepared to obey the law.

"This is in the interests of workers themselves and, as was made clear by business representatives on the Forum, it is in the interests of the reputable businesses who treat their workers fairly and obey the law.

Measures unveiled in the report include:

* Establishing a Fair Employment Enforcement Board to drive continued progress towards effective collaboration between enforcement bodies including HMRC, the Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate (EAS), the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the Health and Safety Executive.

* A single telephone helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuses to the Government's workplace enforcement agencies

* The launch of a sustained campaign, starting this year, to raise awareness of employment rights issues and to encourage workers to report abuses.

* Changing legislation to allow HMRC, EAS and others to share information allowing for more joined-up action on investigations

* Strengthening the Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate.The number of inspectors is to be doubled by the end of July, and awareness-raising will be undertaken to raise its profile significantly. BERR is also introducing stronger penalties for agency offences and increasing the investigative powers of the Inspectorate. Measures to strengthen the penalties and investigative powers for the National Minimum Wage are also included in the Employment Bill currently going through Parliament.

* More contact between the enforcement agencies, advice bodies, community groups and others to raise awareness of employment rights and build information about non-compliant employers.

Among its key findings, the Forum identified:

* A low awareness of employment rights and how they are enforced among vulnerable workers, along with a reluctance to report problems and a lack of knowledge about how to do so.

* Complications created by five different enforcement bodies operating separate helplines and a low profile of some enforcement bodies

The Government will continue to gather evidence on employment rights abuses and ensure that it is doing everything possible to deliver on its promise to protect vulnerable workers and support good employers.

The Government has recently taken a number of significant steps to strengthen employment rights, including giving agency workers a right to withdraw from pay deductions for transport or accommodation and an agreement to implement laws giving agency workers equal treatment with permanent colleagues after 12 weeks in a job.

Notes to editors

1. A vulnerable worker is someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high and who does not have the capacity or means to protect themselves from that abuse.

2. The Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum was chaired by Employment Relations Minister, Pat McFadden and included representatives from the TUC, Unite, GMB, UCATT, USDAW, CBI, REC, HMRC, Health & Safety Executive, Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and Citizens Advice

3. The five bodies responsible for enforcing employment rights are:

* Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate

* HMRC (National Minimum Wage)

* Health & Satefy Executive (for the 48 hour week as well as health and safety)

* Defra (Agricultural minimum wage)

* Gangmasters Licensing Authority

4. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform helps UK business succeed in an increasingly competitive world. It promotes business growth and a strong enterprise economy, leads the better regulation agenda and champions free and fair markets. It is the shareholder in a number of Government-owned assets and it works to secure, clean and competitively priced energy supplies

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