The government has vowed to impose tougher measures on large employers who allow exploitation to take place in their supply chains, focusing in particular on the fashion retail and construction sectors.
Director of labour market enforcement Sir David Metcalf, who has been tasked with enforcing workers’ rights, is consulting with worker and business representatives ahead of publishing a full report on workplace exploitation later this year.
Metcalf is also consulting with government agencies on how to make “full use” of powers to jail bosses for serious offences. Individuals committing “serious labour market offences” can face criminal prosecutions and prison sentences of up to two years.
Metcalf said: “Tackling labour market abuses is an important priority for the government and I am encouraged it has committed record funds to cracking down on exploitation.
”Over the coming months I will be working with government enforcement agencies and industry bodies to better identify and punish the most serious and repeat offenders taking advantage of vulnerable workers and honest businesses.”
The government appointed Metcalf earlier this year to set strategic priorities for the government’s three enforcement agencies: Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) national minimum wage enforcement team, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate.
HMRC’s enforcement teams identified a record £10.9m amount in back pay owed to 98,150 of the lowest-paid workers in the UK during 2016-17, up 69% on the year before.
Businesses who failed to pay workers the legal minimum wage were fined £3.9m, with employers in retail among the “most prolific” offenders.
Business minister Margot James said: “While the majority of employers create a fair and safe environment for their workers, there are a small minority of rogue employers who break the law and we will use all enforcement measures at our disposal to crack down on labour market abuses.”
The news comes after former Labour party official Matthew Taylor published a government-backed independent review on employment practices. The government is expected to respond to it in detail later this year.