Will BIS meet the compliance challenge of Osborne’s Not-A-Living-Wage?

So, George Osborne so enjoyed his upstaging of Labour on the minimum wage in January 2014 that he cunningly reprised it as the final flourish of last week’s Budget – without bothering even to consult the Low Pay Commission, that will now have the job of translating the Chancellor’s political con trick into a workable plan. (And, according to the House of Commons library, that may well require new primary legislation).

In the days following the Chancellor’s flooring of Harriet Harman in the Commons, there was a small tsunami of newspaper comment pieces and blog posts seeking to analyse the deeper consequences, both political and economic, of the move. Among the more sanguine assessments were those by former Resolution Foundation wonk James Plunkett (The UK’s minimum wage just grew up) and the LSE’s Alan Manning (The National Living Wage: a policy experiment well worth trying), while even the Living Wage Foundation managed to utter a welcome through gritted teeth.

For all this hullabaloo, Osborne’s second minimum wage coup actually didn’t advance very far on his first. In January 2014, he asserted that the UK “economy can now afford” a minimum wage rate of £7 per hour. Now – a full 18 months later – he wins acres of news coverage for committing to a rate of £7.20 from April 2016. Never have so many journalists and wonks got so excited over a difference of 20p.

Whatever, a rate of £7.20 from April 2016 is still a hike of almost 11% from the current rate of £6.50 (due to rise to £6.70 in October). So I was just a little surprised that it wasn’t until Sunday – when the Observer carried an outstanding take-down by Gavin Kelly of the Resolution Foundation – that I saw any commentator give more than passing attention to the potentially significant compliance challenge this will pose for some employers, especially in sectors such as social care where – it is commonly agreed – non-compliance is already systemic. Gavin Kelly notes:

When it comes to employers, many sectors should be able to absorb this wage hike relatively easily, despite inevitable carping. But it will pose a severe challenge in some, above all in social care, where endemic low pay means two-thirds of all care workers currently get paid less than today’s [real] Living Wage. The truly heartening news is that more than 700,000 should now receive a pay rise. The worry is that if more public funding is not forthcoming to accommodate this increased wage bill we can expect an escalation in law-breaking by employers dodging their pay responsibilities, and an intensification of service rationing for the vulnerable.

So, was there anything meaningful in the Budget to address this “severe [compliance] challenge” and likely “escalation in law-breaking by employers dodging their pay responsibilities” from April 2016? No, there wasn’t [but see comment by Craig Gordon and my response]. Indeed, as welcome as any significant hike in the minimum wage rate (except for the under 25s) must be, it’s very hard to see any underlying strategy on the part of the Chancellor, beyond providing a deeply cynical fig leaf for his poverty-inducing slashing of tax credits.

Indeed, two months after taking office, the new crop of ministers have yet to give any indication that they consider compliance with the minimum wage to be much of a priority. It is now four months since BIS named any ‘NMW rogues’ under the ‘naming & shaming’ scheme revamped by the then (Liberal Democrat) ministers in October 2013. Which – according to the answers given by BIS to parliamentary questions tabled by Ian Murray in January and Caroline Lucas this month – means there is now a ‘backlog’ of some 340 employers to be added to the 210 named & shamed to date (under the revamped scheme, all employers issued with a Notice of Underpayment by HMRC get named & shamed, regardless of the circumstances and size of the underpayment involved).

At the end of his answer to Caroline Lucas, BIS minister Nick Boles states that BIS “expects to name more employers shortly.” Which does at least suggest that ministers have not completely given up on the naming & shaming scheme. But either the next BIS ‘naming & shaming’ press release will be very long indeed (the largest to date included just 70 NMW rogues), or ministers will have to be more selective than the scheme provides for (e.g. naming only the ‘worst’ offenders among the 340+). And, from April 2016, that choice is likely to be even more stark.

 

Busy day at work: the next Minister for #ukemplaw should not be a part-timer

The polls still suggest a close result but, with the Tory campaign in disarray and their supportive press barons suffering a collective nervous breakdown, I’ve started to feel vaguely optimistic that the next BIS employment relations minister will be a talented Labour MP such as Gloria De Piero, Stella Creasy or – if he survives the SNP tsunami – the excellent Ian Murray. And the reported remarks of Labour’s Lord Falconer, that the shadow cabinet has “very, very few” machinery of government changes in mind, has set me thinking about just how long a ‘to do’ list the new BIS minister would find waiting for them on their desk at 1 Victoria Street.

Because, as easy as it is to criticise the Labour manifesto for its lack of ambition on employment law-related reform, and the woolliness (ET fees) and/or daftness (zero-hours contracts) of some of its specific policy pledges, there’s actually quite a lot for a new Labour employment relations minister to be getting on with. In their first 12 months in the job, she or he will need to devote time and energy to some or all of the following work strands:

  • Working out how to translate the high-profile manifesto pledge to “ban the abuse of zero-hours contracts” into meaningful policy action;
  • Initiating the promised process, jointly led by the CBI and TUC, for agreeing reforms to the ET fees regime and – seemingly – the ET system more generally;
  • Working out how to implement a package of woolly pledges to enhance enforcement of the minimum wage (increased fines/penalties for non-compliance, a role for local authorities, a reformed/beefed up Low Pay Commission, and a possible new emphasis on criminal prosecutions);
  • Launching a consultation on “allowing grandparents who want to be more involved in caring for their grandchildren to share in parents’ unpaid parental leave”;
  • Developing a plan to “tackle exploitation in the care sector as a route to protecting staff and improving standards”;
  • Responding to the findings of the Equality & Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace (originally due out in March, but postponed until after the election);
  • Working out how to translate the pledges to “tackle undercutting by rogue employment agencies”, including by “taking action to crack down on rogue agencies that exploit workers illegally for profit”, and to “extend the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority approach to cover sectors where there is evidence of high levels of migrant labour and exploitative working practices” into meaningful policy action; and
  • Preparing a Bill to legislate as necessary in relation to these and other strands of work.

That’s quite a ‘to do’ list for anyone to cram into five days a week, let alone someone who has a second job as a constituency MP. Yet the position of BIS employment relations minister has always been both a junior and a part-time role – the remit of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs currently covers, in  addition to employment relations: Post Office and postal policy; consumer policy and consumer affairs; competition policy; corporate governance; company law; social enterprise; Insolvency Service, including company investigations; and BIS better regulation, efficiency and reform agenda.

So, if Labour are serious about “supporting firms to win the race to the top, not get dragged into a race to the bottom”, perhaps one minor ‘machinery of government’ change they should consider is separating employment relations and consumer affairs, and appointing a Minister of State for Employment Relations. Some of of the above work strands will involve tricky negotiations with HM Treasury, the Ministry of Injustice and other departments, and on ET reform the minister will no doubt need to bang heads together at the CBI and TUC, so it would be handy not to be at the very bottom of the ministerial food chain. And promoting the position to Minister of State level would widen the talent pool from which to select what should be a prominent voice in any Labour government formed after 7 May.

Postscript: As if I hadn’t made the case well enough above, today the following photograph emerged, showing that the current holder of the post is too exhausted from her ministerial duties to notice that her campaign team are holding her placards upside down.

Nosnims

 

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.

Name&shame

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.

 

 

 

 

Do BIS & HMRC care about the care sector?

There was much ministerial self-satisfaction in evidence yesterday, as BIS named & shamed a further 37 employers for breaches of the national minimum wage. This brings the total number of firms named since the scheme was rebooted in October 2013 to a less than impressive 92. Or just 90, if you allow for BIS wrongly naming, so not actually shaming, two of the 25 firms it named in June last year.

“Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal, immoral and completely unacceptable,” said BIS minister Jo Swinson. “If employers break this law they need to know that we will take tough action by naming, shaming and fining them as well as helping workers recover the hundreds of thousands of pounds in pay owed to them.”

Or the average of £4.82 in pay owed to them, in the case of the 540 workers to whom retailer H&M failed to pay a total of some £2,600. It was this case that – no doubt to the delight of press officers at BIS and the chagrin of those at H&M – most national media chose to focus on, presumably because H&M were unlucky enough to be the first (and so far only) household-name retailer to be shamed by BIS. Never has so little been owed to so many by “time-logging errors in some stores”.

Of course, household-name corporations like H&M – which, according to the Independent, made profits of “more than £600m in the last quarter alone” – could avoid the risk of such adverse publicity by paying their staff a living wage, rather than just the legal minimum.

However, it was another of the 37 shamed employers that caught my eye. Ultimate Care UK Ltd, in Ipswich, became the first of Britain’s 35,000 adult social care employers (i.e. both residential and domiciliary care providers) to be named & shamed by BIS, for failing to pay a total of £613.79 to seven workers. With just 15 care staff, and having won a National Home Care Employer of the Year (< 250 employees) award in 2011, Ultimate Care are probably feeling as aggrieved as the corporate fat cats at H&M at being shamed by BIS when there are clearly a great many bigger fish in Britain’s pool of minimum wage rogues.

Indeed, just two days before BIS dumped on Ultimate Care, Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrat colleague Paul Burstow – a former health minister (2010-12), and chair of a Commission on Home Care – used a Westminster Hall debate to highlight a number of challenges in the adult social care sector, including “the low pay, low status culture that pervades the sector.” Noting that the National Audit Office estimated in early 2014 that as many as 220,000 (15 per cent) of the sector’s 1.5 million workers are illegally paid below the minimum wage, and that “the problem is getting worse, not better”, Mr Burstow called for action to ensure that “those who are exploiting their workers” are “properly and vigorously pursued.”

Mr Burstow is far from alone in contrasting the evidence of systemic flouting of the minimum wage in the sector, with the apparent lack of effective enforcement action against the employers in question. In March 2013, a number of MPs – including Simon Hughes, Liz Kendall, and Alison McGovern – expressed concern about the exploitation of their constituents during a Westminster Hall debate initiated by Labour MP Andrew Smith. And in August that year, a report by the Resolution Foundation think tank highlighted the “national scandal” of care workers being illegally paid as little as £5 per hour:

While headline pay rates for care workers who visit clients at home are set at or above the national minimum wage of £6.19 an hour, in practice those workers often lose at least £1 an hour because they are not paid separately for the time spent travelling between appointments and because providing decent care often takes longer than the time allocated by the employer for each visit. This would mean that over the course of a year, a care worker who spent an average of 35 hours a week at work for 48 weeks would lose out on more than £1600.

In November 2013, an evaluation by HMRC of its enforcement work in the social care sector in 2011/12 and 2012/13, including both complaints made via the Pay & Work Rights Helpline and targeted enforcement against 40 residential care providers and 40 domiciliary providers, concluded that inspectors had “identified higher and increasing levels of non-compliance with minimum wage legislation than has been previously found in the sector.” HMRC noted:

[We] are concerned that many employers had failed to keep sufficient records of working time to demonstrate that workers are being paid at least the national minimum wage, particularly given that non-payment of travelling time for workers in domiciliary care was commonplace [sic].

In May 2014, the Kingsmill Review – a report into working conditions in the sector by Baroness Denise Kingsmill, commissioned by Labour leader Ed Miliband – concluded that “the low status of care work and poor treatment of workers has led to a vicious downward spiral, with widespread exploitation.” Two months later – in response to the March 2014 NAO report cited by Paul Burstow – the Public Accounts Committee of MPs said they were “astonished that up to 220,000 care workers earn less than the minimum wage and little has been done to rectify this.”

In November 2014, Andrew Smith initiated a second Westminster Hall debate, during which Labour MPs queued up to express their concern at the lack of government action on the issue. And, last month, launching a campaign and petition calling on ministers to “end the scandal of illegally paid care workers”, the trade union Unison noted that:

In 2011 and 2013, HMRC investigated the care sector and found that only half of care providers were paying [at least] the minimum wage. Thanks to those investigations, several companies were forced to pay care workers the money that they were owed.

Now, because of the ongoing cuts to care budgets and a lack of follow-up action from HMRC, the situation has become worse. This is in part because most care workers are on zero-hours or temporary agency contracts, with the employers cutting out paid time wherever they can. A full day on the job can translate into only a handful of paid hours.

In short, pretty much everyone who has considered the issue has concluded that exploitation, including non-compliance with the minimum wage, is rife in the social care sector. So why were investigations completed in relation to just 70 residential care homes in the four-year period 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2014? Why has the overall number of investigations by HMRC (i.e. not just the care sector) fallen in each of the past three years, from 1,140 in 2010-11, to 680 in 2013-14? And why does the Government say, in its recent evidence to the Low Pay Commission, that “non-compliance as a result of gross exploitation is very low”? Something’s not right here.

In response to Paul Burstow’s Westminster Hall debate, BIS minister Jo Swinson said:

Proactive investigations happen. There was a particular period of targeted enforcement in the care sector, from 2011 to 2013. We recognise that the issue is important and are returning to the care sector for proactive work. That process is now under way, so more will happen. Currently, 94 employers in the care sector are being investigated for national minimum wage issues, and when those investigation conclude, we will see whether they have broken the law. If so, there are tough penalties, including naming and shaming, and we have taken steps to increase the resources available to HMRC for that vital work.

Presumably, one of those 94 care sector firms is the former employer of Debra Claridge, who made a complaint to HMRC about prolonged payment below the minimum wage (due to non-payment for travel time between appointments) as long ago as November 2012, but – astonishingly – has still not had her case resolved.

Ms Swinson has (laudably) made a habit of including the phone number of the Pay & Work Rights Helpline in her contributions to House of Commons debates and replies to written parliamentary questions, but it makes a mockery of the minimum wage enforcement system for those who follow the Minister’s advice and call the Helpline – as Mrs Claridge did – to then wait two years or more for HMRC to conclude its investigation and recover the arrears owed (or close the case and explain why).

All in all, there is a clear need for a step-change in enforcement of the minimum wage, not least to tackle the “commonplace” but unlawful practice in the domiciliary care sector of not counting travel from one work assignment to another as working time. In a letter to Jo Swinson co-signed by 36 other MPs, Andrew Smith has now requested an urgent meeting to “discuss how BIS, in tandem with HMRC, the Department of Health, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, can ensure that care providers operate within the law and that all care workers are legally paid.”

The £3 million increase in HMRC’s enforcement budget for 2015-16 that BIS announced alongside the naming & shaming of H&M, Ultimate Care and 35 others – an increase not to be sniffed at in these days of austerity and cuts – is clearly welcome, and will no doubt make a difference. But even £12.2 million per year is a piddling sum, given the (growing) size and nature of the challenge. The next government is going to have to do a lot more than name and shame a single social care employer.

 

 

 

 

BIS, you had one job!

Previously on this blog, I have noted how the revamped BIS scheme for naming & shaming employers found to have breached the National Minimum Wage has struggled to get beyond second gear since it came into force 15 months ago, with only 55 (mostly small) firms being named to date.

Now – after months of side-stepping questions by MPs Caroline Lucas and Stephen Timms – BIS has finally conceded that, in June last year, it somehow managed to wrongly name & shame two long-dissolved firms. Among the 25 firms named & shamed by BIS on 8 June, Michael at Zoom Ltd (company registration no: 08311831) was wrongly named as Zoom Ltd (04906202, dissolved in April 2010), and Masterpart Distribution Ltd (04153440) was wrongly named as Master Distribution Ltd (06878211, dissolved in November 2010).

Unfortunately, because NMW-flouting firms are named & shamed only by means of a BIS press release, with no central on-line register of those named, there is no way for BIS to publicly correct these elementary errors, other than to include the two right names in the next press release – whenever that might be. Until then, the number of ‘NMW rogues’ actually named & shamed stands at 53.

 

 

 

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.