June 8, 2021 Watching over workers
The Government has announced the formation of a new workers’ watchdog. The new body, which will be established when Parliamentary time allows, will assume responsibility for a range of worker’s rights which are currently handled by a number of different departments.
Key amongst the new body’s areas of responsibility will be the tackling of modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers. It is envisaged that the watchdog will also act as a ‘one stop shop’ for workers’ grievances as well as ensuring compliance with regulations such as those covering statutory sick pay and holiday entitlements.
The establishment of this new body follows on from a 2019 consultation which concluded in October of that year. Recognising that fragmented oversight not only obscured the view of the labour market but also made it difficult for workers and employers to know where to go for help, the Government considered that a single organisation with an expanded remit could provide increased levels of protection, in particular for vulnerable workers.
In a report issued in tandem with the announcement of the workers’ watchdog on 8th June 2021 the Government cited the effect of the Covid crisis on workers’ rights as well as reports of non-compliance in the textile industry in Leicester as being prime examples of areas in which the new body would be able to deliver effective oversight.
Commenting on the new body, Business Minister Paul Scully said: “The vast majority of businesses want to do right by their staff, but there are a minority who seem to think the law doesn’t apply to them.” He added: “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.”
The prominence given to visibility across the supply chain within the report is indicative of the importance which the Government places on organisations taking a measure of responsibility for ethical work practices within their supply chain. Whilst the current proposals have stopped short of enforcing joint responsibility for poor working practices across supply chains the report makes it clear that this area will be revisited should there be evidence that behaviour has not shifted as required.
As the report comments; “Brands have a responsibility both to carry out due diligence, but also to behave in a way which supports and promotes fair, legal working practices with their suppliers across their whole supply chain.” This is another example of the importance of directors carrying out their duties to act in the best interests not only of their own organisations but also that of suppliers and others.