Liberal Democrats promise new workers’ rights agency

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The Liberal Democrats have pledged to establish a new regulator to police workers' rights if they win the election in 2015, bringing together a number of agencies, including the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and functions of HSE.

Business secretary Vince Cable, delivering the keynote speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow yesterday, also said his department had launched a major review of employment rights, to ensure both workers and their bosses know and understand what staff are entitled to under the law.

However, critics have labelled the plan, which will be included in the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto for 2015, as simply “rearranging the deckchairs”.

The new Workers’ Rights Agency will “revamp efforts to enforce employment law and tackle the exploitation of workers”. This ‘one-stop shop’ will include the national minimum wage enforcement section at HM Revenue and Customs, the working time directive section at HSE, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and the whole of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Cable told delegates: “A joined up enforcement approach will ensure the minority of unscrupulous employers who break the law do not get away with undercutting other employers who play by the rules.”

HSE current has responsibility for policing certain aspects of the Working Time Regulations, the British law that transposed the Working Time Directive. It is responsible for the enforcement of the maximum weekly working time limit, night work limits and health assessments for night work.

Officials at the business department yesterday started work gathering information for the review that aims to determine how clear the current employment framework is, what the options are to extend some employment rights to more people and whether there is scope to streamline employment law, simplifying and clarifying rights for both employers and employees.

The review will look at all range of employment status, including employee, worker and self-employed, to assess whether workers on these different types of contract are receiving all legal benefits they are entitled to.

Business department officials expect to present interim findings by the end of the year, and hope to submit recommendations for next steps to ministers by March.

Steve Murphy, general secretary, of UCATT, the union for construction workers, said: “Cable is re-arranging the deckchairs, even if this review decided that there needed to be significant changes to the laws on employment status, it is likely to be lost in the fall out from next year’s general election.”

“Urgent action is needed to tackle the exploitation suffered by hundreds of thousands of workers who are denied their proper employment rights by being falsely self-employed or made to operate via umbrella companies, payroll companies or other scams.”

Chukka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “You can’t trust Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats. They broke their promises and have been too weak to stand up to the Tories.”



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