Opinion Former Article

PCS: Mandelson to outsource vulnerable worker hotline

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) expressed its deep opposition today to Lord Mandelson's decision to outsource the delivery of a new helpline for vulnerable workers experiencing employment rights violations.

The move to outsource the new single enforcement hotline, which includes advice on the national minimum wage, comes despite opposition from the TUC, PCS and MPs.

The formation of a single hotline for vulnerable workers brings together helplines for the national minimum wage, health and safety, gangmasters, employment agencies and the agricultural minimum wage. The unified helpline was a key recommendation of last year's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) Vulnerable Workers Enforcement Forum, which included the TUC, CBI and enforcement bodies. The forum did not recommend that the new hotline be outsourced.

Criticising the failure to fully consult on the outsourcing, the union called on BERR to fully explore in-house options.

The union went on to warn that outsourcing the new hotline could fail vulnerable workers, with providers lacking current staff's expertise and links with enforcement bodies.

The largest of five helplines being brought together, is the national minimum wage helpline, which is currently run by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "The important work of the vulnerable workers enforcement forum risks being undermined by the outsourcing of a key helpline that will cover the minimum wage and employment rights.

"We have major concerns about the lack of full consultation on these plans and doubt whether contractors have the expertise to deliver the new unified helpline. There is a danger that providers will cut costs, resulting in the help and support for vulnerable workers being read from a script in some distant call centre.

"As the recession bites, vulnerable workers are most at risk of being exploited. Support, advice and enforcement cannot be done on the cheap and we urge Lord Mandelson to think again and keep the helpline in-house."

TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, added: "I am deeply disappointed that yet again the Government is turning to the private sector to deliver a crucial public function.

"The most vulnerable workers need real support and advice and this helpline could have been effectively delivered by dedicated public servants."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For further information, interviews and comment please contact Alex Flynn PCS national press officer on 020 7801 2820 or 07833 978216.

PCS, the Public and Commercial Services Union is the union representing civil and public servants in central government. It has more than 300,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies. It also represents workers in parts of government transferred to the private sector. PCS is the UK's sixth largest union and is affiliated to the TUC. The general secretary is Mark Serwotka and the president is Janice Godrich.

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