New Labour’s business and enterprise secretary John Hutton unveiled what the media, reading the press releases, referred to as “a package of new measures” over employment law.
He told the TUC that enforcement of the minimum wage and other rights would now be stepped up.
He said, “We are substantially increasing investment in enforcing the minimum wage. Where there is underpayment I can confirm today that employers will face an increased maximum fine and workers will get fair arrears of wages reflecting the current value of the wage they are owed.
“We will go further to crack down on rogue agencies. We will raise the possible penalty for abuses to an unlimited fine and we will legislate to end the suspect practice of forcing agency workers to pay for accommodation or transport – giving them for the first time a real choice and a right not to take services they don’t want to use.”
The reality is that he announced a grand total of 12 new inspectors. He went on to rule out enacting legislation over agency workers rights or even extending the gangmasters legislation beyond the agriculture sector.
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said, “Hutton spoke some fine words but it is this government which has blocked the progress in Europe he now says he wants. Let us have some clear commitment on legislation and let us see some action.
“We need rigorous enforcement of existing laws, making examples of the worst employers who should go out of business or be sent to jail.”
While the TUC passed a motion for the extension of the gangmasters act to apply to the construction industry.
Ucatt, the construction workers’ union, highlighted the plight of Poles living in farms and caravans in the Angus area.
Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of Ucatt, said, “John Hutton’s response on extending the Gangmasters Act was entirely inadequate. He clearly does not understand his brief. The CDM (construction) regulations are solely concerned with safety – they have no bearing on gangmasters exploiting worker.”
Both Ucatt and Unite raised the issue of a blacklist of union activists in the construction industry as revealed in Socialist Worker (» Scandal of constuction industry blacklist, 8 April 2006 ).