In 2018, the government outlined its “vision for the future of the UK labour market” in its Good Work Plan. As part of that plan, the establishment of a single labour market enforcement agency (as opposed to the current system of distinct bodies) was proposed. Those in favour of such consolidation argued it would lead to increased protection of vulnerable workers, by way of increased clarity and awareness of employment rights.
In 2019, the government invited public consultation on the matter (which our team blogged about at the time), specifically in relation to the creation of a single enforcement body for employment rights with an extensive remit of dealing with issues such as National Minimum Wage (NMW), labour exploitation and modern slavery. It was envisioned that the single body would consolidate (i) HMRC’s National Minimum Wage (NMW) Enforcement; (ii) the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate; and (iii) the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority.
The response to this public consultation revealed that nearly 75% of respondents believed the current arrangements were ineffective. In June 2021 the government therefore confirmed its commitment to legislate whenever parliamentary time allowed (which our team also wrote about at the time).
Despite extensive conversations, official consultations and the government’s public commitment to establishing this single enforcement body, in a recent session of the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, Business Secretary Grant Shapps revealed that the government has no plans to implement such an enforcement body. Mr Shapps did leave the door to such a body slightly ajar, remarking: “We have spent more than two years of this Parliament fighting Covid-19 … it may be that with two years left of Parliament, we are still able to address single enforcement bodies … [but] we are more interested in ensuring that the bodies that are already in place are operating effectively.” Permanent Secretary of BEIS, Sarah Munby, highlighted the fact that the government has doubled the budget allocated to NMW enforcement and compliance as a clear example of its efforts to improve the efficiency of existing employment enforcement bodies.
In the same session, when asked for an update on the introduction of a new employment bill, which was originally announced as part of the 2019 Queen’s Speech, Mr Shapps confirmed: “I do not think we have an employment bill on the cards per se.” However, he referred to the various government-backed private members’ bills on topics such as flexible working and carer’s leave which, to an extent, replicate some of the protection envisioned under the previously proposed employment bill.