Vulnerable workers: Tories boldly go where Labour and the Lib Dems feared to tread

WARNING: This blog post contains words of praise for the Tories.

This post should have appeared on Hard Labour a couple of months ago. However, when I realised what I would be saying, I had to undertake a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. But I’m all right now.

Between 2000 and 2013, while working as employment policy officer at Citizens Advice, I wrote a deadly boring series of research and policy reports arguing for a consolidation of the three main labour market enforcement bodies – the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA), the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI), and the HMRC minimum wage enforcement team – into a single Fair Employment Agency fit for the 21st century, with the legal powers and resources to “root out the rogues” without imposing unnecessary regulatory burden on the great majority of compliant employers.

In the reports – and in any number of shorter articles, parliamentary submissions, campaign leaflets, and conference presentations – I noted that, all too often, vulnerable workers are too fearful of further victimisation or dismissal to issue an employment tribunal claim, the principal means of enforcing most statutory workplace rights. And, as a result, rogue employers can profit from exploitation with near impunity.

From the outset, my proposal was firmly opposed by the Great Protector of workers’ rights, the TUC. Protecting workers’ rights is a job for the trade unions, not government, I was told. And union membership was now growing so rapidly that all workers would be unionised by the 26th century. Well, all workers in whatever remained of the public sector in the 26th century, anyway.

However, as few if any of the tens of thousands of vulnerable, exploited workers seeking advice from CABx would live to cheer the arrival of the TUC’s cavalry, I plodded on. Occasionally, I would win over a key policy actor – the then Equal Opportunities Commission, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the trade union Unison – only to watch them get nobbled by the brothers and sisters at the TUC.

Then, in early 2006, the Labour government became interested, announcing – in a DTI policy document, Protecting vulnerable workers, supporting good employers – that “we need to ensure that vulnerable workers are not mistreated but get the rights they are entitled to.” Policy officials at the DTI (or was it BERR by then?) made encouraging noises. And in 2007 I was invited to join a Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, chaired by the employment relations minister. This included senior officials from the enforcement bodies (including the HSE), as well as officials from each of their sponsoring departments, and my friends at the TUC were there to ensure nothing significant ensued.

Sure enough, when the Forum concluded in August 2008, having decided to do little more than create a single telephone gateway to the enforcement bodies – the Pay & Work Rights Helpline, since abandoned and rolled-up into the Acas helpline – the minister, Pat McFadden MP, told me that, while he agreed a Fair Employment Agency was a great idea, he couldn’t be arsed with all the inter-departmental wrangling that would be involved in setting one up. (To be fair to Pat, what I think he meant was “Gordon Brown won’t let me, and I can’t spend two years arguing with him”).

Fast forward to 2011, when (I’m told) the Coalition’s first employment relations minister, Ed Davey MP, used to wave a copy of my last report for Citizens Advice on the issue at BIS officials and demand to know “what we are doing about this.” Not a lot, seems to have been the answer, and in July 2012 a ministerial review of “the existing workplace rights compliance and enforcement arrangements, to establish the scope for streamlining them and making them more effective” quietly concluded that a single agency “would not provide significant benefits to workers.”

However, the idea appears to have stuck around in someone’s head, because in October 2014, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, then business secretary Vince Cable MP quietly announced that his party’s manifesto for the May 2015 general election would promise a new Workers’ Rights Agency combining the remits of “the minimum wage enforcement section of HMRC, the working time directive section at the Health & Safety Executive, the BIS Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and the GLA.” According to Cable, this “joined-up enforcement approach” would “ensure the minority of unscrupulous employers who break the law do not get away with undercutting other employers who play by the rules.” So, there would be significant benefits to workers after all.

In the event, Cable’s clumsily-named Workers’ Rights Agency didn’t make it into his party’s 160-page manifesto, though when asked about this his then junior minister Jo Swinson tweeted “the idea’s still there.” By which Ms Swinson appears to have meant “the idea’s now been stolen by the Tories.”

For, while the Tory manifesto was as silent on the idea as those of the Liberal Democrats and Ed Miliband’s pathetically timid Labour – of six references to ‘enforcement’ in the Tory manifesto, five are to enforcement of immigration law, and one is to “tackling aggressive parking enforcement” – within a few weeks of his Clegg-free return to Downing Street, David Cameron announced the creation of “a new enforcement agency that cracks down on the worst cases of exploitation.” And Part 1 of the Immigration Bill – which earlier this week I watched being hand-delivered, all tied up in green ribbon, from the Commons to the Lords – establishes “a new statutory Director of Labour Market Enforcement, responsible for providing a central hub of intelligence and facilitating the flexible allocation of resources” between “enforcement of the national minimum wage by HMRC, the regulation of employment agencies by [EASI] and the licensing of legitimate labour providers by the GLA.”

OK, ‘Director of Labour Market Enforcement’ isn’t as snappy as Fair Employment Agency. But if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Indeed, it’s clear from the joint BIS and Home Office consultation exercise – which ends on Monday night – that the Director of Labour Market Enforcement not only looks, waddles and quacks like a Fair Employment Agency, but actually is my Fair Employment Agency in all but name.

The consultation document states that “the Director will have a high public profile as a leadership figure for labour market enforcement and against exploitation of workers,” and will “set out an effective and coordinated plan to promote compliance in areas where the intelligence indicates a threat of labour exploitation or greater levels of non-compliance. The Director will also need to be able to call on any of the enforcement bodies to assist in the implementation of that plan.”

Furthermore, the Director’s strategic plan will “set out, for the financial year ahead: the priorities for enforcement; the outcomes required from the enforcement bodies; and the budgets for the enforcement bodies, within the total envelope of available funding.” And “once approved by Ministers … the plan will be the starting point for all of the work of the three enforcement bodies [my emphasis].”

So, eat your heart out, brothers and sisters of the TUC. What Labour’s Pat McFadden and Gordon Brown couldn’t be arsed to do when they had the chance, and what the Liberal Democrats couldn’t even find space for in their 160-page tome of liberal do-gooding, the Tories are now doing, just like that.

Sure, it’s unfortunate they’re using an Immigration Bill to do so, and naturally a lot will depend upon that ‘total envelope of available funding’. But if the new Tory Government had simply wanted to diminish (or even abolish) the GLA, EASI and minimum wage enforcement, it could quite easily have done so without going to the trouble of creating its Director of Labour Market Enforcement, and without proclaiming its determination to “bring to justice those who are exploiting workers [and] stop such exploitation happening in the first place.”

So, well done you Tories. And now I’m going to go and lie down for a bit.

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NMW enforcement: David Cameron ramps up the rhetoric (but not much else)

Late last month, prime minister David Cameron used an article in the Times – Parliament is just so yesterday, dahling – to announce that he is putting enforcement of the so-called national living wage (or increased national minimum wage rate for workers over the age of 25, if you prefer) from next April at the heart of his ‘One Nation’ agenda. According to the Guardian – for ideological as well as financial reasons, I am physically unable to read the Times – the prime minister wrote that the national living wage will only work if it is “properly enforced”. And, to that end, “a new labour market enforcement director will be appointed to ensure that firms comply” with the new rate of £7.20 an hour for the over 25s.

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the crack political correspondents reporting the prime ministerial ‘announcement’ spotted that this represents something of a policy climbdown by Cameron. As recently as May this year, he and other ministers were talking of creating “a new labour market enforcement agency” to “crack down on the worst cases of labour market exploitation”, including non-payment of the national minimum wage. Now, that “new agency” has shrunk to just one extra, director-level official. Woo hoo.

On the plus side, Cameron reportedly said his Government will “significantly increase” the budget for enforcement of the national minimum wage, which has already seen welcome increases under the Coalition, from a miserly £8.3m in 2013/14, to £9.2m in 2014/15, and £13.2m in 2015/16. At a time when departmental budgets are being slashed, such increases are not to be sniffed at. Unfortunately, the prime minister gave no indication of the size of the further “significant increase” he has in mind.

Furthermore, the rate at which financial penalties for non-compliance are calculated will be increased from 100% of the underpayment, to 200% (though the current maximum penalty of £20,000 per underpaid worker will remain). And there will be a new team in HMRC to “take forward criminal prosecutions of those who deliberately don’t comply” – in recent years, such (relatively expensive) prosecutions have been even rarer than they were under the last Labour government.

To “unscrupulous employers who think they can get Labour on the cheap”, wrote the prime minister, “the message is clear: underpay your staff, and you will pay the price.”

So it’s surprising that, since the general election in May, ministers have ‘named & shamed’ just one tranche of 75 unscrupulous employers found by HMRC to have breached the minimum wage. For some 50-60 such employers become eligible for ‘naming & shaming’ each month and, as recently confirmed by BIS in answer to a parliamentary question by Jo Stevens MP, the failure to ‘name & shame’ more than 75 since the last tranche of 48 in March means there is now a growing ‘backlog’ of more than 500 unscrupulous employers that BIS has yet to ‘name & shame’. Will it ever do so? We should be told.

Indeed, in late July, BIS announced an effective amnesty from both financial penalties and ‘naming & shaming’ for those NMW-breaching employers that self-report to HMRC. So much for ‘paying the price’ for underpaying your staff. Understandably perhaps, BIS ministers appear somewhat reluctant to say how many unscrupulous employers they have let off ‘paying the price’ since July.

All in all, the message is not quite as clear as the prime minister would have us believe. Underpay your staff, and you might pay the price. Or you might not.

Looking at the details of the tranche of 75 employers ‘named & shamed’ in July, it’s easy to see why Cameron’s announcement did not include any increase in the maximum penalty per worker, as not one of the 75 had to pay anywhere near £20,000 in penalties. The average total underpayment (and so penalty) was just £2052.86, and the average underpayment per worker just £1247.37. In 37 of the 75 cases, the total underpayment (and so penalty) was less than £1,000, and in all but ten it was less than £5,000. In 46 cases, just one worker was underpaid, and only in five cases were ten or more workers underpaid by the employer. One case involved 57 workers, and another 46 workers, but the underpayment per worker in those cases was just £71.41 and £6.61 respectively.

As with previous tranches of ‘naming & shaming’ then, we’re talking about relative small fry – the local hairdressers, beauty salons, pubs, cafes and second-hand car dealers. Indeed, looking at all 285 unscrupulous employers ‘named & shamed’ to date, it does seem that HMRC sees hairdressers and beauty salons as easy targets for keeping its ‘strike rate’ up. Then again, among the 14 hairdressers and beauty salons in this tranche were five of the ten employers found to owe more than £5,000.

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Manifesto mania: NMW enforcement not a job for the Home Office

So, we’ve had the Labour manifesto. And the Labour manifesto for Work, the Labour manifesto for Women, the Labour manifesto for Young People, and the Labour manifesto for Black and Ethnic Minority communities. I imagine before 7 May we’ll have the Labour manifesto for Dog Owners, and the Labour manifesto for People Who Listen to the Archers. But today it seems we will get the Labour manifesto for Home Office officials.

According to a report in the Guardian, the main feature of this will be a new “Home Office investigative unit” to target “the illegal exploitation of migrant workers”. This will consist of a “team of more [than] 100 police officers and specialists from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority”, who will be given “new powers to stop the abuse of workers and increase the prosecutions and fines of employers who breach employment laws”.

It’s far from clear how much this new unit will cost, but the Guardian reports “it will be paid for by levying a charge on non-visa visitors to the UK which is expected to raise £55 million”. And the unit will have “one overriding duty”:

To stop the abuse that makes the working families of Britain poorer. This new unit will have the powers and funding it needs to increase the prosecutions and convictions of Britain’s worst employers: those who exploit workers and drag down the wages of everyone else.

All of which glosses over the fact that we already have not one but four public bodies (or units) with much the same overriding duty: the aforementioned Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the national minimum wage (NMW) enforcement unit of HMRC, the BIS Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS), and the working time directive unit at the Health & Safety Executive. And, to access one or more of these bodies, you have to contact a fifth: Acas.

All of these bodies/units are severely underfunded: HMRC currently gets just £12 million a year to enforce the NMW, the GLA just under £3 million, and the EAS is about five people. And, if you were a government minister with a blank sheet of paper and some £15 million to spend on ‘tackling Britain’s worst employers’, you wouldn’t design a system with four (or five) separate bodies or units. You might, as Vince Cable suggested last year, create a Workers’ Rights Agency (or, say, a Fair Employment Agency), with “the powers and funding it needs” to tackle Britain’s worst employers. (Sadly, that suggestion hasn’t got much further than the inside of Dr Cable’s head, but at least he and the Lib Dems are thinking on the right lines).

So, if you are a new minister on 8 May, charged with the same remit, and have as much as a further £55 million to spend, you really shouldn’t create yet another public body (or unit). And YOU CERTAINLY SHOULDN’T PUT IT IN THE FUCKING HOME OFFICE.

headdesk

[Postscript: here’s the Labour press release on Miliband’s speech]

 

NMW naming & shaming: frying the small fry?

On Tuesday, in what might well prove to be her last significant act as BIS employment relations minister, Jo Swinson named a further round of 48 employers found by HMRC to have breached the National Minimum Wage (NMW). The BIS press release notes:

Between them, the companies named owe workers over £162,000 in arrears, and span sectors including fashion, publishing, hospitality, health and fitness, automotive, care, and retail. This latest round brings the total number of companies named and shamed under the new regime to 210 employers, with total arrears of over £635,000 and total penalties of over £248,000.

With this sixth round of naming & shaming coming just four weeks after the last one (of 70 employers, on 24 February), and just two months after the one before that (of 37 employers, on 15 January), it’s clear that the rebooted regime that came into force in October 2013 has finally ground up through the gears to reach full speed. And, were there not a general election on 7 May, we could expect this pattern of monthly BIS press releases, each naming some 50 employers, to continue from now on. Accordingly, now seems a good time to take stock of what has been achieved to date, and what that tells us about HMRC’s enforcement of the NMW more generally. So I’ve been crunching the numbers.

Perhaps the most striking – and significant – aspect of my number crunching is that the numbers are pretty small. Although the 210 named & shamed employers between them owed a total of £638,100 to a total of 5,396 workers, some 72 per cent (3,863) of those workers were underpaid by the three worst-offending employers (in terms of number of workers underpaid, though not necessarily the total or average arrears owed). In 121 (58 per cent) of cases, the employer had underpaid just one worker, and only in 12 cases had the employer underpaid 20 or more workers.

Similarly, in 180 (86 per cent) of cases, the total arrears owed by the employer was less than £5,000, and only five employers owed total arrears of more than £20,000 (the current maximum penalty imposed by HMRC in addition to payment of the arrears owed, which is otherwise set at 100% of the total arrears owed). Even more strikingly, overall, the average arrears owed per worker was just £118.25, or just 0.6 per cent of the new maximum penalty of £20,000 per worker provided for in the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill, on the verge of receiving Royal Assent.

Indeed, only 30 employers (14 per cent) owed arrears of more than £2,000 per worker, and only two employers owed arrears of more than £10,000 per worker (NB in both cases, there was only one underpaid worker). In most cases, the sum owed per worker was relatively small: 104 of the 210 employers owed arrears of less than £500 per worker.

The impression that HMRC’s enforcement net is catching mostly small fry is reinforced when we breakdown the 210 employers by sector. From the following chart (which shows only those sectors with two or more of the 210 employers), we can see that 41 – almost one in five – of the 210 employers are hairdressers or beauty salons, and 37 (18 per cent) are a pub, restaurant, cafe or hotel. Only three care homes or home care firms have been named & shamed to date, and in those three cases the arrears owed per worker were just £178.76, £162.81, and £87.68 respectively. Yet, as noted previously, there is broad agreement that at least 200,000 of the social care sector’s 1.5 million workers are unlawfully paid below the NMW.

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Yes, there are a few household names among the 210, including (in this week’s round) French Connection UK, Foot Locker, 99p Stores, Pizza Hut, and Bounty (UK) Ltd, which produces the ‘Bounty Packs’ handed out to new mothers. But most such cases appear to involve what Jo Swinson calls “irresponsible mistakes”, rather than the employer “wilfully breaking the law”. French Connection, for example, owed an average of £44.78 to 367 workers, while fellow high street fashion retailer H&M owed an average of just £4.82 to 540 workers.

All in all, the detail behind the headline numbers suggests that whoever has Ms Swinson’s job after 7 May should do rather more than simply decide whether to continue with the monthly BIS naming & shaming press releases. It’s time that HMRC’s enforcement net started catching some of the bigger (and nastier) fish in Britain’s minimum wage rogue lake, as well as the small fry. And that may well require new priorities, new strategies, and (even more) new money.

 

 

 

 

NMW enforcement: the politics (and economics) of justice

Earlier this week, Labour launched a press and Twitter offensive against Conservative BIS minister George Freeman, after the latter appeared to dismiss the former’s concern about enforcement of the minimum wage as “the politics of envy”. During a short Delegated Legislation Committee debate on draft minimum wage Regulations on Monday, Freeman had been pressed by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Stephen Doughty on the number of criminal prosecutions of employers for breach of the minimum wage – just one under Freeman’s government to date. And, towards the end of the debate, Ms Creasy hinted at a surprising lack of knowledge of the enforcement regime on her part when she demanded:

Will the Minister talk us through the consequences to companies of not following the [NMW] regulations? If the number of prosecutions is so low, and those who are named and shamed can bear the brunt of not being popular, is there really any consequence of not paying all those low-paid workers?

The Minister responded:

As I set out in my opening remarks, there are very heavy penalties [for non-compliance]. The hon. Lady may not ever have run a business, but I assure her that for people who do so, fines and reputational damage are a major force for compliance. Prosecutions may satisfy the politics of envy of the Opposition, but they are not the best mechanism to drive compliance.

A crass remark, for sure, but one problem with Labour’s head office and MPs making such a loud and gleeful noise about it is that it invites us to ask what approach Labour would take to enforcement of the minimum wage should they find themselves in government on 8 May.

For, crassness aside, the Minister makes a good point. The criminal prosecution of minimum wage rogues has never been a key element of the enforcement regime, with the Labour government that established the regime itself managing only seven prosecutions in the four years after criminal sanctions came into force in 2006. Indeed, that Labour government had deliberately created an enforcement regime based on HMRC securing compliance (and payment of arrears to workers) through investigation and the imposition of civil penalties, without resorting to resource-draining prosecutions in the criminal courts. So it is at least arguable that every prosecution represents a failure of the enforcement regime, as designed by Labour. In other words, the fewer prosecutions there are, the better.

Certainly, the number of prosecutions is not a very helpful yardstick. What matters most is whether minimum wage-flouting employers believe there is a real risk they will be investigated by HMRC. And that depends upon the financial resources made available to HMRC for intelligence gathering, inspections, and investigations.

In any case, the inescapable fact is that criminal prosecutions are at least 25 times more costly than a standard investigation by HMRC. According to official figures cited in the Trust for London report Settle for nothing less, a criminal prosecution costs at least £50,000, while the average HMRC investigation costs just £1,850. So, if prospective ministers such as Ms Creasy want there to be more criminal prosecutions from 7 May, they will either have to come up with (a lot) more money, or face presiding over a substantial cut in the number of HMRC investigations.

To date, there has been no indication from any shadow minister that Labour would increase the spend on minimum wage enforcement – which the Coalition has recently increased by an impressive 50 per cent, from £8 million in 2013-14, to £9 million in 2014-15, and a budgeted £12 million for 2015-16. Indeed, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have steadily shot most of Labour’s minimum wage enforcement foxes: naming & shaming is (finally) gearing up; the maximum civil penalty has been increased from £5,000 to £20,000; and, as I’ve noted previously on this blog, that maximum penalty will increase again to a more than adequate £20,000 per underpaid worker just as soon as the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill becomes law. Poor Labour MPs are left waving little more than a meaningless pledge to ‘increase’ the maximum penalty to £50,000 (per employer or per worker, no one’s thought it necessary to spell out).

So, do Labour plan to reshape the enforcement regime, with a new emphasis on (expensive) criminal prosecutions? I put that question to Ms Creasy and Mr Doughty on Twitter, but they didn’t respond. I guess it’s easier to make fun of hapless government ministers than it is to explain what you’d do differently if you were sitting in their ministerial chair.

Postscript: Ms Creasy appears to have read this post, but has not (yet) taken the opportunity to explain the extent to which criminal prosecutions would feature in a Labour government’s approach to enforcement of the minimum wage.

The holes at the heart of Ed Miliband’s #ukemplaw speech

Yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband responded to recent media and internal criticism of his leadership by giving his #ukemplaw speech. This didn’t go quite so far as resolving the question of whether voluntary overtime should be included in holiday pay, but it did include a robust denunciation of inequality and the casualisation of so much of the UK’s labour force. There were repeated mentions of zero-hours contracts, low pay, and insecure work, and more than one shout-out for the Living Wage.

All fine and dandy, even if there wasn’t any new policy as such, and had the event concluded at the end of Miliband’s speech I would most likely have left Senate House feeling somewhat encouraged. But the speech was followed by a Q&A, and my positive mindset was inadvertently shattered when a Labour activist in the audience – picking up on her leader’s condemnation of zero-hours contracts and citing her own bitter experience – gamely urged Miliband to legislate for an outright ban.

Starting his response with a swipe at the Coalition’s plan to simply ban exclusivity clauses, which he (rightly) noted will do nothing to tackle the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts, Miliband went on to re-iterate Labour’s own plan to pass legislation giving zero-hours workers who are in fact working “regular hours” a legal right to demand a regular contract. “It is essential we do this”, said Miliband, “as the problem is affecting so many people.”

And then Miliband was off to the next question, without explaining how or why the “bad businesses” that cause so much misery to “so many people” will change their exploitative practices just because politicians in Westminster have passed yet more new employment law. Will tens of thousands of vulnerable, zero-hours workers suddenly discover the courage (and resources) to risk almost certain dismissal (or just a reduction in their hours to, well, zero) by issuing a tribunal claim against their exploitative employer for refusing to give them a regular contract?

No, they won’t. Which is why, if Miliband and his party are serious about tackling the ever greater casualisation of the labour market, and the associated zero-hours contracts, chronic low pay and insecure work, they have to start thinking about doing more than simply pass more laws creating more rights. For, as the October 2014 report of Labour’s own National Policy Forum acknowledges, “Employment rights have to be enforceable to mean anything.”

And what plans does Labour have to make employment rights – existing and new – more enforceable?

Well, somewhat belatedly, the party has started making the right sort of noises on tribunal fees, which have slashed the number of cases by 65% and left the average private sector employer facing a claim just once every 83 years. However, it’s pledge to replace the fees regime with one in which “affordability will not be a barrier to workplace justice” remains more a clumsy slogan than a credible policy solution to the not insignificant problem that outright abolition now comes with a price tag of some £40m in lost fee income (£4m) and increased operational costs (£35m).

However, as already noted, understandable fear of victimisation or summary dismissal means that, high fees, low fees or no fees, many abused workers will not even contemplate taking their employer on with a tribunal claim. And that means rogue employers can profit from exploitation with near impunity. It was for this reason that, in 1999, the then Labour government established the mechanism by which the national minimum wage is enforced, both in response to complaints and pro-actively, by a team of HMR inspectors. And similar reasoning lay behind the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in 2005.

The National Policy Forum report includes a pledge to extend the narrow remit of the GLA to other sectors such as “construction, hospitality and social care” – but the CBI, REC and other employer bodies will never swallow such an extension of licensing (and see below). And the report states that “alongside increased fines and a new role for local authorities in enforcement [of the minimum wage], HMRC’s remit on enforcement should be expanded to include related non-payment of holiday pay” – these being recommendations from the May 2014 report for the Party on low pay and the future of the minimum wage by businessman Alan Buckle. But the fines have already been substantially increased, and it is hard to see many cash-strapped (and in many cases near bankrupt) local authorities taking an active role in such (limited scope) enforcement.

So, if Miliband’s #ukemplaw speech is to mean anything, he and shadow ministers need to take a leaf out of Vince Cable’s book. Last month, at his party’s conference in Glasgow, Cable quietly announced that the Liberal Democrat manifesto for May 2015 will promise a new Workers’ Rights Agency that would “revamp efforts to enforce employment law and tackle the exploitation of workers” by combining the remits and work of “the minimum wage enforcement section of HMRC, the working time directive section at the Health & Safety Executive, the BIS Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and the GLA.” According to Cable, this “joined-up enforcement approach” would “ensure the minority of unscrupulous employers who break the law do not get away with undercutting other employers who play by the rules.”

And, if it makes Miliband and colleagues feel better about lifting ideas from Cable, this wasn’t actually Cable’s idea – he simply lifted it from me. Over more than a decade at Citizens Advice, I repeatedly advocated a consolidation of the State enforcement bodies into a Fair Employment Agency, so as to shine a light into the murkiest corners of the labour market, provide better value to taxpayers, and secure a fairer competitive environment for business. And I’ve continued to do so in recent years. I really am that boring.

However, not long after I got home from Senate House, a tweet by shadow work & pensions secretary Rachel Reeves alerted me to another, equally depressing hole in Miliband’s purported determination to tackle the scourge of insecure and badly paid work. Reeves was tweeting a link to an interview she and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna have given to the Financial Times, from which it is clear that, faced with protests from the CBI and others, Reeves and Umunna are now rowing back on Miliband’s eve of conference pledge to raise the minimum wage rate to at least £8.00 per hour from October 2019. And, later in the evening, on BBC Newsnight, Umunna confirmed that Labour would only “try to get the minimum wage to £8.00 per hour by 2020”.

So, while Miliband’s #ukemplaw speech has been rightly praised for its greatly improved oratory and highly commendable “focus on inequality and insecurity,” the content seems as sadly hole-ridden as ever.