Exploitation of vulnerable workers by unscrupulous employers must end

Business leaders this morning called on the government and employers to rescue millions of mistreated UK workers from exploitation reminiscent of practices that were considered exploitative in the 19th century.

A report by the TUC-backed Commission on Vulnerable Employment – which includes Kevin Beeston, chairman of facilities management frim SERCO, and Belinda Earl, chief executive of fashion brand Jaeger – suggested a range of improvements.

These included raising awareness of the issue for both employers and employees, better enforcement of workers’ rights, and tougher laws.

“It is unacceptable that these practices exist today, and more action is needed to prevent these extreme violations of employment law,” Earl said. “I was shocked that such poor practice still exists.”

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “We welcome the report’s focus on protecting workers from abuse by a small minority of employers, and a number of the ideas put forward are sensible.

“However, the report fails to distinguish between improved enforcement of existing employment rights, which will have real benefits for vulnerable workers, and more regulation, which will not.

“It is more effective enforcement of these existing rights that would truly help protect vulnerable workers and prevent good employers being undercut by rogue firms.”

Vulnerable workers are defined as those who “undertake precarious work that places them at risk of continuing poverty and injustice from an imbalance of power in their relationship with their employer”.

More than two million of the 25 million estimated workers in the UK were classified as vulnerable by the report.

It said workers suffer because they lack an escape route from vulnerable jobs, do not know their rights, and cannot get their rights enforced because of workplace bullying.

“It’s time society stopped turning a blind eye to these workplace abuses that are shaming the world of work and tarnishing the reputations of good employers,” said Beeston.

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