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Agency workers campaign brings real help

Agency workers campaign brings real help

Help for agency workers is high on the agenda for the second meeting of the Fair Employment Enforcement Board.

The Board brings together businesses, unions and the government to monitor and direct efforts to protect vulnerable workers, including a 1m campaign to raise awareness of agency workers' rights. Other issues for the Board include the delivery of a single enforcement helpline where all cases of worker mistreatment can be reported, as well as an update on enforcement activity against rogue employers.

Employment Relations Minister Pat McFadden said: "Workers in the UK are better protected than before, but we are working hard to make sure that everyone's rights are respected. "We know that some agency workers don't know their rights and some don't know where to report potential abuses. That's why the Government is spending 1m to inform agency workers of their rights, and where to go for help and advice.

"Most employment agencies play by the rules but where that's not the case, we don't want to see people short changed. "The recession must not be an excuse to deny employment rights."

As well as a high-profile poster campaign, Pat McFadden has written to more than 13,000 employment agencies to outline how they can make sure they are complying with the law.

This is complementing the work of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS), which recently doubled in size and extended its investigative power.

In the last three months of 2008, a total of 223 warnings were issued to employers found to be breaking the law.

Large-scale EAS crackdowns were carried out in Corby in October, Plymouth in November and in the construction sector across the UK in December.

Across the three crackdowns, 88 agencies were inspected, with 315 breaches found across 65 of them, who all received warnings.

The government also secured compensation for five West Midlands entertainers ripped off by a rogue agent.

1. The Vulnerable Workers Enforcement Forum was established to examine abuses of employment law. It reported in August 2008, after working with the government over the previous year.

Recommendations included:

* Establishing a Fair Employment Enforcement Board

* Creating a single telephone helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuses to the government's workplace enforcement agencies

* The launch of a sustained campaign to raise awareness of employment rights issues and encourage workers to report abuses

2. A vulnerable worker is someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high and who does not have the capacity or means to protect themselves from that abuse.

3. The Fair Employment Enforcement Board includes:
* Employment Relations Minister Pat McFadden (chairman)
* HM Revenue and Customs
* Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate
* Health and Safety Executive
* Gangmasters Licensing Authority
* Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
* Confederation of British Industry
* Trades Union Congress
* Unite
* Federation of Small Businesses
* Citizens Advice

4. Employment agencies who break the law could face prosecution and fines of up to 5,000 per offence. Rogue agencies could also be banned from operating for up to ten years.

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