By Kristy Dorsey

A new “workers’ watchdog” is being set up by the UK Government to create a one-stop shop for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers.

Responsibility for protecting workers’ rights in these areas is currently spread across three different bodies: the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority; the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate; and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement. These will be combined to create a single regulator.

In addition to enforcing all existing powers belonging to these agencies, the new body will also be able to ensure vulnerable workers get the holiday and statutory sick pay they are entitled to without going through the lengthy employment tribunal process.

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The move comes after the Queen’s Speech earlier this year failed to mention the Employment Bill that was promised in the previous Queen’s Speech in December 2019. This has led many to conclude that employment law reform is no longer a priority for the Government.

Announcing the plans today for the new agency, Business Minister Paul Scully said the current administration has been “absolutely clear” that it will do whatever it can to protect and enhance workers’ rights.

“This new workers’ watchdog will help us crack down on any abuses of workers’ rights and take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains, while providing a one-stop shop for employees and businesses wanting to understand their rights and obligations,” he added.

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The Government said it will also explore further measures to target abuses in the garment sector, where there have been numerous reports of serious problems.

One option would be to create a Garment Trade Adjudicator to investigate companies’ supply chains, or extending the licensing scheme that currently covers employers in the agricultural sector. Under that scheme, businesses that provide workers to the agricultural and fresh produce supply chains must apply for a license to operate in those sectors and are subject to inspections to ensure they meet employment standards required by law.