The UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has created a single workers’ rights watchdog to eradicate modern slavery in British factories and agriculture.
With seasonal working, modern-day slavery and labour exploitation is a concern for the agricultural industry. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) identified the agricultural industry as a high-risk sector for exploitation and abuse of seasonal workers, including poor wages and working conditions, such as overcrowding and poor sanitation. It is also recognised globally as a high-risk sector. We previously wrote about some local breaches of gangmaster licensing requirements here.
The new watchdog will be a “one-stop-shop” to enforce minimum wage laws, protect agency workers and eradicate modern slavery. The new regulator will bring together three former bodies: the GLAA, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and the National Minimum Wage enforcement team based at HM Revenue and Customs.
What will the new regulator do?
The new regulator will:
— Help ensure vulnerable workers get holiday pay and statutory sick pay without having to go through a lengthy employment tribunal process.
— Provide guidance on best practice to businesses to build links with community and worker groups to spread awareness and support engagement with at-risk groups. (Including the low-paid and those in sectors including agriculture, construction and manufacturing garments).
— Investigate and take action if they identify breaches of relevant legislation including imposing a ban preventing the breaching company from selling their products.
— Have enforcement powers and will continue the government’s existing Naming Scheme run by the Low Pay Commission, which in December 2020 named 139 businesses for failing to pay the minimum national wage.
The regulator will also be focused on the construction and manufacturing garments sectors which are equally high-risk sectors. The requirements apply to anyone providing workers in these sectors not just those businesses with a large turnover. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires an organisation with UK £36million turnover or over to publish a modern slavery statement in each annual report, providing a link to the statement on their website and setting out the steps it has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place within its business or supply chain.
Business Minister Paul Scully has said that “the vast majority of businesses want to do right by their staff, but there is a minority who think the law doesn’t apply them. 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 chain whilst providing a one-stop-shop for employees and businesses wanting to understand their rights and obligations.”
It is particularly important for businesses operating in high risk (of modern slavery) sectors such as agriculture to seek specialist advice and mitigate risk. We can provide you with a clear route map of the law outlining the obligations bespoke to your organisation, to ensure you have measures in place and to protect the reputation of your business. We have niche expertise to help with this. Please get in touch.