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March 13, 2009

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Outsourcing fears over vulnerable workers’ helpline

Union officials have slammed the Government’s decision to outsource a

helpline for vulnerable workers, suggesting that a service managed by

the private sector may not deliver adequate advice on health and safety

and employment rights.

The unified hotline for vulnerable workers — a key recommendation of last year’s Vulnerable Workers’ Enforcement Forum, chaired by employment relations minister, Pat McFadden — will be launched in May, and brings together helplines for the national minimum wage, health and safety, gangmasters, employment agencies, and the agricultural minimum wage.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has decided to outsource the helpline to Broadcasting Support Services (bss), a registered charity that also delivers the Consumer Direct service in London.

However, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has claimed there was a lack of consultation on the issue and fears that the service could be delivered on the cheap.

General secretary, Mark Serwortka, said: “The important work of the Vulnerable Workers’ Enforcement Forum risks being undermined by the outsourcing of a key helpline that will cover the minimum wage and employment rights.

He continued: “There is a danger that providers will cut costs, resulting in the help and support for vulnerable workers being read from a script in some distant call centre. As the recession bites, vulnerable workers are most at risk of being exploited. Support, advice and enforcement cannot be done on the cheap, and we urge Lord Mandelson [the Business secretary] to think again and keep the helpline in-house.”

TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, added: “I am deeply disappointed that, yet again, the Government is turning to the private sector to deliver a crucial public function. The most vulnerable workers need real support and advice, and this helpline could have been effectively delivered by dedicated public servants.”

Responding to the union concerns, a BERR spokesperson said: “Bss have a strong record in providing support for vulnerable people and we are confident that they will provide a first-class service to the public after the helpline’s launch in May, in close partnership with the enforcement bodies who stand behind it.

“The helpline is part of the Government’s wide-ranging programme to boost support for vulnerable workers, which is overseen by the Fair Employment Enforcement Board that brings together business, unions and the government.”

http://www.berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/employment/Vulnerable%20workers/index.html

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