UK labour market gets new enforcement boss

A pay and pricing guru has been appointed by the government to the new position of Director of Labour Market Enforcement.

Sir David Metcalf, who has advised on the national minimum wage, betting prices and the salaries of judges, will oversee the drawing together of three existing enforcement bodies

The three are; the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority; the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage enforcement team.

Although the ‘.gov’ profile listing his achievements is devoid of any business experience, Sir David will choose the sectors that should be targeted for unscrupulous employment practices.

Basing his decision on intelligence provided by the three bodies, he will also set the strategic priorities of the trio and plot the regions where their crackdowns on exploitation should focus.

“The UK is by and large a fair and safe place to work, [but] there are still rogue employers who exploit their workers and undercut honest businesses,” Sir David said. “This will not go unpunished.”

Likely to support his work is the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), which has said it welcomes any opportunity to stamp out “unethical practices” in the workplace.

It too agrees that undercutting is unfair to the majority of rule-abiding companies.

In fact, applauding a pledge at Autumn Statement 2016 to target employers who use disguised remuneration, the FCSA said: “It has become increasingly difficult for legitimate businesses to compete with these schemes, so we fully support the…move to tackle them.”

Meanwhile, in endorsing Sir David’s appointment, business minister Margot James stated that the government was determined to “make sure the economy works for all.”

She also said: “Sir David’s extensive experience will be invaluable in this hugely important role to help stamp out workplace exploitation and ensure that when unscrupulous employment practices are found, justice is done for those affected.”

According to the FCSA, employers should both treat their workforces properly so that exploitation cannot happen, and “not shirk their responsibilities to provide basic workers’ rights.”

Having met with the financial secretary to the Treasury Jane Ellison MP in November, the FCSA said the government was clearly still committed to stamping out false self-employment, despite recent criticism of the legislation and its guidance.

But FCSA’s chief executive Julia Kermode has other concerns. “The current trend in government policy appears to be a desire for professional contracting to become so cumbersome that it is eradicated in favour of permanent employment. 

“This is certainly borne out by the IR35 changes that will be going ahead for the public sector in the coming months,” she said. “It is frustrating that current media attention seems to imply that there is something wrong with self-employment.”

The GMB union confirmed the mainstream press’s agenda: “Not a week goes by without new stories of workers in UK industries being exposed to shameful working conditions,” it said.

But its general secretary Tim Roache also said yesterday that the appointment of Sir David was “long overdue” in tackling “unacceptable working practices.”

“Just three employers have been prosecuted for paying workers below the minimum wage despite HMRC finding 700 who have broken the law in the past two and a half years,” Mr Roache said.

“Naming and shaming is not enough -- we need see a crackdown on those employers who are breaking the law.”

In November, the director of recruitment agency Whites Recruitment International pled guilty to eight charges contrary to the ‘agency regs’ -- the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations (2003).

He received a £16,000 fine; a two-year ban as a company director and an order to pay more than £16,000 towards prosecution costs, having failed to supply workers with the necessary paperwork and for withholding their wages.

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