No new laws in crackdown on employers who abuse vulnerable workers

Business leaders have breathed a sigh of relief after a crackdown on rogue employers of vulnerable workers announced this morning did not include new laws.

The strategy instead features a telephone helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuses, and a £6m information campaign to raise awareness of employment rights.

It comes from recommendations made by the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, which included representatives from business, unions, recruiters and the government.

Neil Carberry, head of employment at the CBI, said: “This report is good news for law-abiding employers. Britain has a strong framework of employment rights and it is where these laws are flouted that employees are open to exploitation.

“New laws and regulations do little to tackle unscrupulous firms, who simply ignore the law while they undercut law-abiding businesses. This package of reforms will not increase the burden for honest businesses, but will help protect workers who are being denied their employment rights.”

A vulnerable worker is defined as 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.

Under the plans announced today, a new body – the Fair Employment Enforcement Board – will co-ordinate the work of the government agencies covering minimum wage, health and safety, employment agencies and gangmasters. The number of Employment Agency Standards inspectors is also to be doubled by this time next year.

However, the board will have no power to recommend new rights or policy changes.

TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “The government has decided that its internal workings need to be significantly streamlined if it is to offer genuine help to vulnerable workers.

“But an opportunity has been missed to address the legal and regulatory flaws which keep two million workers in conditions which shame a modern economy.”

Employment relations minister Pat McFadden said: “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.”

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