The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have warned that a lack of safety inspectors could mean a breach in the UK-EU trade agreement. 

UK workplaces have not been receiving an adequate number of safety and workers’ rights inspections over the past year, an analysis by the TUC has warned.

Counting cases between March 2020 and April 2021, only one in 171 workplaces received both workers’ rights and safety inspections.

The findings showed even more companies did not face safety inspections – with this proportion rising to one in 218 companies.

This “crisis of enforcement”, the TUC has warned, could be putting employees at unnecessary risk. It has also meant that no employers have been prosecuted or fined for putting workers or the public at risk for catching COVID-19.

The research also found that the number of EAS and HMRC inspections drastically fell during the crisis.

EAS inspections, which check that agency workers are getting their basic rights, halved during the pandemic from the previous year. These inspections fell from 303 annually to just 151.

Additionally, HMRC inspections, which check if employers are paying the minimum wage, fell by a fifth (20 per cent) during the same period (from 3300 to 2740 inspections).

This has led to particular workers – such as agency workers on zero-hours contracts and furloughed staff – being at high risk of failing to receive workplace rights such as National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and contracted working hours.

The TUC also warns that the lack of inspectors could be in violation of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement which stipulates an effective system of domestic enforcement and labour inspections in accordance with its international commitments.

At this current time, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) benchmark for inspectors, which it recommends all countries meet, is for countries to guarantee one inspector per 10,000 workers. However, the UK would need an additional 1,797 labour market inspectors to meet this benchmark.

As such, the union body has called on the Government to provide enforcement bodies with “long-term, sustained funding” so they can recruit and train proper workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute employers falling foul of health and safety rules.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

Everyone deserves dignity and safety at work. But too many are working in dangerous workplaces, at risk of Covid-19, or being illegally paid less than the minimum wage.

Years of cuts to the HSE and huge under-resourcing of other enforcement bodies has left us vulnerable and ill-prepared for the pandemic.

The government must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute bad bosses who don’t keep their workers safe.

The government should also make sure everyone can afford to self-isolate if they need to. That means making sure everyone can get statutory sick pay, and raising it to the level of the real Living Wage.


*To obtain this research, the TUC looked at inspections by the key enforcement bodies: the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Employment Agency Standards (EAS), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).