Enforce for good

Effectively enforcing labour market rights in the 2020s and beyond

A minimum wage, paid holiday from day one, safe working conditions and non-discrimination in the workplace are all basic standards that workers are entitled to in the UK today. But these rights are not worth the paper (or screen) they are written on if non-compliant employers are not identified and required to make good any wrongs. Failing to enforce labour market rights undermines living standards by leaving workers short-changed, and allows low-margin firms to survive by giving them an unlawful edge over their compliant peers. As a result, effectively enforcing labour market rules is a crucial plank of any economic strategy that seeks to kickstart growth and reduce inequality to boot.

This report concludes a four-year work programme at the Resolution Foundation supported by Unbound Philanthropy exploring the what, why and how of labour market enforcement. Here, we bring all our findings of the last four years together with new evidence from five cross-country studies to show how we could do better in the UK when it comes to enforcing labour market rights.

We find that a sea change is required in enforcing labour market rights. The levels of a wide range of labour market violations are unacceptably high; low-paid, and other vulnerable workers who are the least able to assert their rights themselves, are at the sharp end of unlawful employer practice; our state enforcement system is incoherent and patchy; our ability to detect violations is limited; and our standard approach to non-compliance when it is uncovered is weak.

As policy makers strive to improve worker rights, they must reform not just the protections themselves, but our current labour market enforcement regime as well.