Watchdog for workers’ rights to be launched

The Government confirmed on 8 June 2021 that it will be creating a watchdog to protect workers’ rights, including tackling modern slavery and enforcing minimum wage laws.

Although it is yet to be confirmed when this new watchdog will begin to operate, it will be given powers and responsibilities to combine three bodies, which each cater to different employment law areas, into one. It aims to create a “comprehensive new authority” to ensure that employers are adhering to their legal responsibilities and that those who “break the rules have nowhere to hide”, namely tackling modern slavery, enforcing minimum wage laws, and offering protection to agency workers.

As part of the announcement, the Government has added that the new watchdog’s powers will be extended to provide a “port of call” for workers. The role of this aspect of the watchdog’s role is, according to the Government, to allow workers to know their rights and blow the whistle on “bad behaviour”. Similarly, the watchdog will offer support to employers so they are able to “do right by their employees”. Importantly, the existing Naming and Shaming Scheme – which calls out employers that fail to pay their staff the correct minimum wage rates, and fines them up to £20,000 per employee – will be managed by the new watchdog.

This Naming and Shaming Scheme will be extended to cover other laws protecting workers’ pay where they are hired through an agency. It is also hoped that vulnerable workers will be helped with issues around holiday pay and statutory sick pay without them having to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

HR considerations

Not all employers will need to be too concerned about the creation of this new watchdog as it aims to curb the exploitation of workers. However, either way, all employers must keep track of their business procedures to ensure that they do not fall foul of employment law provisions that seek to protect workers’ rights.

Whilst no launch date has been set, it is advisable that employers begin to review these processes and tighten their policies on matters relating to grievance procedures, modern slavery, minimum wage, and more.

Crucially, employers should ensure that employee concerns are listened to, especially where it is observed that the company has not taken steps to safeguard employees’ health and safety in the workplace. In cases such as these, where whistleblowing is concerned, if employees are subjected to a detriment by a manager who believes that they are a ‘troublemaker’ for raising the matter, they can bring an employment tribunal claim against the organisation. Any dismissal on these grounds will also be automatically unfair from day one, which could lead to an expensive compensation award at a tribunal as it considers just and equitable.

It is important now more than ever that employers are seeking advice on areas of employment law that they may need further clarification on. This will ensure that they remain on the right side of the law.

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