Fair warning to the unfair

28 August 2008
Fair warning to the unfair

The Government is stepping up its efforts to protect the UK's most vulnerable workers, warns Employment Minister Pat McFadden

Most hospitality employers treat their staff well, and want to obey the law and operate in a fair way. But a small proportion of firms knowingly disregard the rights of their workers, often completely ignoring the law.

These companies often fail to adhere to minimum wage laws and force staff to work very long hours, without holiday or sick pay. It is in the interest of every business and every worker that these companies are stopped and that is exactly what we intend to do.

For the past year, I have chaired the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, made up of business and union representatives, Citizens' Advice and employment enforcement bodies. Our aim was to determine the best means of cracking down on employers and agencies that deliberately flout the law, so that we not only protect vulnerable workers but also support those law-abiding companies.

Earlier this month, we released our recommendations.

First, we are introducing stronger penalties for employers who do not pay their staff the national minimum wage from next April.

We receive a large number of complaints of abuses of workers in the hospitality sector. For the 2006-07 tax year, a total of 416 complaints were received by the national minimum wage helpline from the sector.

Second, we plan to double the number of Employment Agencies Standards (EAS) inspectors. We will also introduce stronger penalties for agency offences and enlarge the investigative powers of the EAS Inspectorate.

To improve the level of advice and support available to business, we will establish a dedicated helpline for employers. We plan to set up a similar helpline for workers.

Last June, we launched a Government-funded three-year pilot, led by the TUC in Birmingham, targeting workers in hotels and restaurants. It is exploring the best ways of getting information and advice to workers, targeting hard-to-reach and socially excluded groups. The pilot will continue to be monitored for successful partnerships or approaches that help vulnerable workers at a local level.

My job as employment minister is to ensure a fair and productive labour market. We need to support good employers and crack down on unscrupulous ones. I firmly believe that each and every one of us has a part to play.

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