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Protect comment: ‘New employment rights regulator raises more questions than answers’

Paul Scully, Minister for BEIS, (Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy) announced in Parliament (June 8) the creation of a single enforcement body to tackle exploitation of workers and abuse of labour rights. The proposed regulator will have responsibility for enforcing rights such as minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, and modern slavery.   

Regulators play a vital role in investigating and resolving whistleblowing concerns, but Protect’s view is that this announcement raises far more questions than it answers. 

Our immediate concern is that no timetable has been announced for its creation so it will likely be a long while before it is functional. This leaves whistleblowers without any clear route to raise concerns about a culture of employment rights abuses. 

The government has also not offered clarity on the resources the new body will have: without proper funding, any new regulator will not get off the ground and risks encouraging rather than deterring bad employers to continue to flout employment law with total impunity. In addition, the regulator’s staff will need to receive proper training to ensure they can fulfill their duties towards whistleblowers. 

Our other major worry is that this new body is expected to amalgamate pre-existing functions of other regulators. Whilst we welcome a simplification of the regulatory landscape, this may not be achieved here. The new body seems to have no remit over key issues in employment law, such as harassment and discrimination which are currently mostly enforced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

This overlap of regulation means whistleblowers may be unsure of who to raise concerns to and may make the mistake of disclosing to the wrong regulator. There will also be situations of systemic breaches of employment law covering both discrimination and wages issues when whistleblowers will have to disclose to two  or more regulators. The Government needs to carefully consider how they communicate each regulator’s remit to avoid this confusion. 

Paul Scully said, “We want this new body to act as a beacon for workers – somewhere they know they can go to blow the whistle on bad employers and employment practices.” 

In that case, the regulator must become a prescribed person so that workers who blow the whistle have an easier route towards obtaining protection under whistleblowing law. Mr Scully said that the government will talk “directly to community groups and workers … to ensure they know who to call”. 

We welcome that proposal and, as stated in our Betters Regulators guide, we want to see clear and accessible messaging so that workers are aware of this new regulator and know how to contact it quickly and easily. 

We would expect the new regulator to comply with the other principles found in our Better Regulators Guide, particularly regarding confidentiality and feedback on the disclosures made. These assurances are hugely important to whistleblowers and they may choose not to raise their concerns if they do not have confidence in the regulator’s processes, which should be as transparent as possible. The government should legislate for this in the proposals it intends to bring forward; our whistleblowing bill already contains provisions to this effect (see p 7 here). 

The government has not brought forward its employment bill from the 2019 Queen’s Speech and it was omitted completed from the Speech in May this year. For too long, the government has stalled on the proper enforcement of employment rights, and whistleblowers are not getting the proper legal protections they deserve. 

It is vital that we have robust, efficient and independent regulators who properly enforce the law. Regulators play a key role in ensuring a proper  level playing field so that good employers are not undermined by rogue ones. Whistleblowing and the ability to raise concerns to a regulator who can and will act is crucial to upholding the rule of law. 

Employment rights are meaningless if employers can break the law without repercussion and  laws that are openly flouted make a mockery of our parliamentary democracy. Protect will be writing to BEIS and MPs on this  and continue our campaign for better whistleblowing rights in ‘Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law’. 

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