Why we need a bad work plan

A report this week looked at problems around employment law enforcement in the UK. We need to do more to focus on not only protecting people’s rights in law, but enforcing them in practice.

Employee Rights

 

We tend to focus a lot in the UK on good practice in the hopes that sharing it will encourage others. The idea is that most people want to do the right thing, but they might need ideas and encouragement. But what if they don’t? A speaker at a Resolution Foundation event on enforcement this week said he was sick of good work policies. he said focusing on good work all the time is easy and can distract us from the work of eradicating bad work. “We need a bad work plan,” said Alan Bogg, Professor of Labour Law at the University of Bristol. He said it was all very well to talk about the future of work, but addressing urgently what is happening in the present also matters and he castigated politicians for failing to enforce employment legislation for years, with the most vulnerable least likely to be able to take action at the tribunal. “It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the real culpability which is a political culpability,” he said.

Enforcement has been overlooked for many years and yet we know that it is often lacking. The Resolution Foundation published a report this week which showed how it is failing and how that impacts not just individuals but also compliant firms. It looked at the prevalence of breaches such as paid holidays not being given. Those most affected are the most vulnerable groups: the youngest, the oldest [over 65 year olds], migrants, ethnic minorities, those on zero hours contracts and temporary workers. The report said there are many enforcement bodies responsible for different parts of the the law, but that this fragmentation is one of the main problems. In other countries, there is a single enforcement body which is more effective. Another key issue is the underfunding of enforcement bodies, although a few have had a boost in funding recently. The Resolution Foundation said the amount per person spent on enforcement adds up to just 10 pounds. Non-compliant firms are often given the benefit of the doubt too, which leaves it to individual workers to enforce their own rights through the employment tribunal, a long and difficult process which the most disadvantaged are least likely to be able to take [although older people are more likely to have the resources to do so than younger people].

For Professor Bogg, the essence of a bad work plan is to ensure the most vulnerable are protected. He praised the report and said he hoped it had real impact and that every part of the enforcement system needs to be interrogated and reformed. Others spoke of the need for employment legislation, for enforcement to keep up with the way the labour market has changed, for instance, the rise of the gig economy, for higher fines to deter employers and for more labour market inspectors.

Once again the event showed the need for a root and branch look at how we work today and that it’s not enough to have the legislation that protects all workers’ rights if that legislation is not properly enforced.



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