A workers’ rights watchdog has had its funding cut by more than half since 2010 and has failed to bring a single prosecution in the past year, according to research by Labour.
The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS), which was set up to ensure employment rights are protected, particularly for vulnerable workers, suffered a cut to its budget from £1.1m in 2009-10 to £500,000 in 2015-16. Staff numbers at the agency fell 70% from 30 to nine in the same period, according to its annual reports and answers to parliamentary questions.
The figures come after Revenue & Customs began an investigation into Sports Direct for failing to pay minimum wage to staff at its warehouse and stores.
Labour MP Ian Lavery, who is leading the party’s Workplace 2020 initiative on employment, said ministers were undermining workers’ rights: “This analysis demonstrates the government’s unwillingness to stand up for working people,” he said. “This Tory record is a scandal.”
He added: “Despite the government’s rhetoric on irresponsible capitalism, and tackling unscrupulous employers in the wake of the Sports Direct inquiry, it is clear that they have undermined the work of the very agency charged with investigating breaches in employment agency practices. The government is leaving too many workers at the whim of unscrupulous employers.”
Mike Ashley, the Newcastle FC owner who founded Sports Direct, appeared before a parliamentary committee in June and admitted the retailer had broken the law by failing to pay staff at its warehouse in Shirebrook the national minimum wage. The admission confirmed the findings of undercover Guardian reporters.
Despite complaints rising by a fifth between 2011 and 2016, the number of inspections carried out by the EAS has fallen by more than half, said Labour, adding the agency failed to bring a single prosecution forward or seek any prohibitions on unscrupulous employers in the past year.
A Department for Business spokesman said: “This government is committed to having an economy that works for all, that includes ensuring workers and work-seekers are treated fairly in the labour market. Following a consultation last year, we are taking a number of steps including appointing a statutory director of labour market enforcement who will set priorities for enforcement bodies and drive a new, overarching and collaborative approach to labour market enforcement across the entire spectrum of non-compliance. These measures will continue to guarantee workers have a level playing field and ensure the most vulnerable in society are protected.”
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