THE GOVERNMENT’S proposals to create a single labour enforcement body as part of its ‘workers’ rights package will fail to tackle entrenched workplace exploitation, according to construction union, Unite.
Unite believes that to tackle workplace exploitation and challenge the ‘race to the bottom’ on standards at work enforcement capacity needs to be increased, so that all public agencies involved in enforcement activity have the capacity, scope and resources to provide swift enforcement on behalf of workers.
Currently, employment licensing only exists in agriculture, food processing and shellfish collection. In these sectors all employment agencies and gangmasters must meet strict criteria before they can supply workers.
Employment licensing aims to prevent abuse and protect workers throughout the supply chain. However, in many sectors where there is a high degree of exploitation of vulnerable workers such as construction, hospitality and the care sector, licensing does not apply and no action can be taken until exploitation has occurred.
Unite is concerned that if a single enforcement body were created, it should have sufficient resources, and attention given to where it is located in government.
Since the Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority (GLAA) has been transferred to the Home Office, Unite claims that there has been an increase in fear from vulnerable workers believing that they will be targeted.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “The government’s proposals on labour market enforcement are a major disappointment. Faced with entrenched workplace challenges and the ‘race to the bottom’ on standards at work, we need more than a fig leaf to provide protection.
“If the government were serious about tackling the exploitation of vulnerable workers they would be extending licensing to keep rogue employers out of all sectors.
“It would be providing union access to workplaces as a right, and it would be recognising the importance of sectoral collective bargaining in setting and raising standards.
“The government needs to ensure upholding workers’ rights is a first priority across all enforcement agencies. It cannot be an afterthought.”