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May 6, 2008

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Call for more enforcement and law changes to cut exploitation

Employment practices viewed as exploitative in the 19th century are still common today, claims a major report on vulnerable workers, published today.

The report Hard work, hidden lives, which was published by the TUC’s Commission on Vulnerable Employment, says the law needs to be changed to allow enforcement agencies, such as the HSE and the minimum wage enforcement unit of HM Revenue & Customs, to work more closely together.

As well as reiterating the call for more funding for regulators, the report also argues for more proactive enforcement that targets rogue employers, rather than waiting for complaints from insecure workers.

Commissioners, who include trade unionists, employers, and independent experts, expressed shock at the extent of vulnerable work. The report claims that 2 million UK workers are “trapped in a continual round of low-paid and insecure work, where mistreatment is the norm”.

TUC general secretary and chair of the Commission, Brendan Barber, said: “All the commissioners — whatever their backgrounds — were shocked at just how vulnerable some workers are in today’s Britain. Their treatment is a national scandal, and we need urgent action.”

Some of the other recommendations made in the report include:

€ᄁ extending the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority’s (GLA’s) licensing regime to cover sectors prone to vulnerable employment;

€ᄁ the establishment of a new Fair Employment Commission, involving employers, unions and civil society groups, to coordinate the work of enforcement agencies, monitor awareness of employment rights, and make recommendations to the Government; and

€ᄁ a major awareness programme and improved funding for employment rights advice.

On the first of these issues, Paul Whitehouse, chair of the GLA, said: “If the Government wishes to extend our remit into other sectors, as the Commission recommends, our committed and enthusiastic staff are willing and ready to accept the challenge of reducing exploitation elsewhere.”

The Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) described a number of the ideas put forward by the Commission as sensible, but it argued for proper enforcement of existing laws rather than creating new regulations.

On the issue of more licensing, CBI deputy director-general, John Cridland, said: “Extending the licensing regime to sectors beyond agriculture would impose extra costs and bureaucracy on good employers, yet the evidence to date suggests that it has failed to stamp out rogue agencies.”

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