‘They haven’t the foggiest who we are’: the watchdog fighting to protect Britain’s exploited workers

Posted: February 13th 2023


This article from the longer form story section in the Guardian is really interesting in the context of the workforce issues connected to social care it suggests significantly poor workforce practices in some rural settings…

Beels, who is the government’s director of labour market enforcement, says exploitation in the care sector and among migrant agricultural workers are at the top of her list of concerns. She is a career civil servant, well schooled in diplomacy, but admits the watchdogs she oversees are understaffed and that the system is plagued by gaps that can be exploited – whether that be the complex definitions of employment status, the supervision of umbrella companies, or holiday pay.

She says her role is a bit like being “a lightning conductor” for those who feel exploited at work. Asked if there are enough inspectors, she says with typical understatement: “We have got about a quarter of the International Labour Organization’s recommendations in terms of inspectors, and by that yardstick you can say: no, there isn’t. It is hard not to say more resources would result in more things being done.”

Beels told a recent parliamentary committee that it was “not entirely my experience” that workers’ rights were improving under the current regime.

“The government has a strong agenda about growth,” she tells the Observer. “In my view growth can only be achieved with a workforce being looked after properly.”

She believes social care is a “big, big issue”. The government has attempted to deal with worker shortages by extending international working visa schemes in this and other sectors, but Beels says such extensions have the potential to create their own sets of problems. After last year’s rapid extension of the seasonal visa scheme for people picking fruit and vegetables, for example, it emerged some workers had been forced to pay finder’s fees to brokers in their home country to secure their UK roles.