The government has proposed a new Single Enforcement Body (SEB) to protect worker’s employment rights and that exploitation of workers is deterred. Currently, enforcement is piecemeal and can be ineffective, meaning that neither workers nor compliant employers are well served.
Protect recently attended a group meeting called by ELAN (Employment Legal Advice Network – in association with Trust for London), to discuss preliminary thoughts, ideas and concerns in relation to the proposed Single Enforcement Body (SEB), which is currently the subject of a government consultation, as part of the Good Work Plan.
What Protect would like to see happen
We know from supporting thousands of whistleblowers every year that the regulatory landscape can be confusing, complex and inconsistent.
Creating a single-entry point for individuals to approach in relation to employment issues would reduce confusion about where to go and may help to facilitate more engagement. We also believe that in parallel to the creation of SEB there needs to be resources devoted to developing clear whistleblowing processes for those wishing to raise concerns with the SEB, and a public interest campaign to raise their profile among the UK workforce.
Protect suggests that the SEB be made a ‘prescribed person’, as many regulators already are, including the Care Quality Commission, the Financial Conduct Authority, the National Audit Office among many others. This would enable those raising whistleblowing concerns to be protected from unfair dismissal for approaching the SEB. This measure would help to increase workers confidence in raising concerns by giving them enhanced legal protection.
Protect shares the concern voiced by many ELAN attendees over the suggested close working relationship the SEB would have with immigration enforcement. This presents a significant risk; if an individual is unsure of their immigration status (a fundamental factor that silences vulnerable workers, and indeed an element which causes them to be vulnerable) they will not engage with a process which may lead to their removal - so these workers will be frozen out of the SEB. This could lead to the most vulnerable being excluded. One solution suggested was a ‘firewall’ to prevent data sharing between employment bodies and immigration control.
ELAN brings together various stakeholders, charities and organisations working in the employment industry, to gather thoughts and ideas from a range of perspectives. Discussion at the meeting was lively and raised the following points:
The SEB could develop a progressive, principles-based approach, using set principles to guide subsequent decisions. Principles could include:
- Evidenced based resourcing to ensure adequate funding and operational ability
- Protected/safe access: no negative consequences for those approaching the SEB
- Open access: multiple routes of engagement
- Stakeholder involvement: affected individuals to help shape and review SEB processes
- Intelligence based approach: joining up data from different sources to reveal patterns
- Enforcement powers which are significant, and used frequently enough to act as a deterrent and not just provide a remedy
As a new body, the SEB has an opportunity to build trust with the public, so it should prioritise users ‘positive experience’. Even if an individual’s claim is not upheld, it will be of importance that those who engage with the SEB feel they have had a fair hearing. This means a clear process must be followed and explained, so that decisions are understood by all parties. An independent advice function of the SEB, designed for workers, may be beneficial in achieving this.
In addition, if the SEB had a statutory duty to refer information to appropriate bodies or departments, the process would more efficient and comprehensive. Currently, if an employment rights body receives information outside its remit, there is no duty to pass that information on. Imposing a duty would increase accountability, so it is no longer the responsibility of an individual to search for someone to take on their concern.
Grouping the enforcement of all employment rights together could lead to a loss of specialisms, for example in relation to discrimination or licensed labour. The group also felt that it was important for all labour to be included in the remit of the SEB, and not just those who are employed, as this could exclude those of worker status who may be more vulnerable to exploitation.