(2 years, 5 months ago)Commons Chamber
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Taylor review.
I am delighted to set out the Government’s response to the review of modern working, which was led by Matthew Taylor. He set out his ambition that the Government should place as much emphasis on creating quality jobs as they do on the number of jobs. Good work and developing better jobs for everyone in the British economy are at the centre of the industrial strategy vision.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that, as we leave the European Union, there will be no roll-back of employment protections, but today we are committing to go further and to seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace for even more people. We will support employers who give individuals their correct employment rights, but we will prevent undercutting by unscrupulous employers who try to game the system, by clearly defining who is employed and who is not. We will extend the right to receive a payslip to all workers, including a statement of the hours that they work. We are requiring employers to clearly set out written terms from day one of the employment relationship, and to extend that to all workers. We are taking forward 52 of the 53 recommendations in the Taylor review, and all but one of the recommendations from the joint report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee.
For workers on zero-hours contracts, we are creating a right to request a stable contract. For the first time, the state will take responsibility for enforcing a wider set of employment rights, including sick pay and holiday pay, for the most vulnerable of workers. Employers who lose tribunal claims against staff and are found to have had no regard to the law will face fines of up to £20,000, quadrupled from the current £5,000. We will also ensure that employment tribunal awards are paid correctly.
The Government are very grateful to Matthew Taylor and his panel, as well as to the many individuals and organisations who contributed to the review. I would also like to thank the BEIS, Work and Pensions and Scottish Affairs Committees for their contribution to this work. Through our response, we are acting to ensure good work for all, to protect the rights of those on low pay and to ensure that more people get protection, security and certainty in the work they do.
The tragic case of Don Lane, a DPD gig worker, epitomises the precarious and unstable working life many people face and the failure of the Government to protect workers. They needed to do something bold today, but it appears that they are simply papering over the bleak realities with rhetoric. Launching four consultations, merely considering proposals, and tweaking the law here and there is not good enough. How would any of this have actually helped Don Lane? It simply would not—that is the fact of the matter.
So I ask the Minister: which rights will apply to which workers from day one? How will they be quantified for zero-hours workers? Why, despite public support, have the Government not protected agency workers by abolishing undercutting through the Swedish derogation? How does a right to request more stable hours differ from the current position? Without an obligation on the employer to accept such a request, it is meaningless. Why have the Government not brought forward any meaningful proposals to protect gig workers? Defining working time misses the point. We needed clarity on workers being paid when they are logged into apps waiting to receive jobs, as well as clear and urgent direction on the legal status of gig workers. Why was there not even one mention of trade unions? On the genuinely self-employed, we see the creation of a website allowing the self-employed to talk to each other—well, bravo! Why is there no system of support and no recognition of the precariousness of their situation? This is simply window dressing.
What we needed today was radical new architecture of the law at work to protect workers, in which the genuinely self-employed are offered key protections and the involvement of workers through their trade unions is crucial. We saw none of that, and to miss those things out of any recommendations is to miss the ocean and look at the pebbles underneath.
I have to say that I share the hon. Lady’s desire to improve the rights and protections for the workers we represent in our constituencies. It is disappointing that in her long response she was unable to welcome any of the steps we are taking. As a result of the actions set out in our response to this review, millions of workers will have greater rights and access to more protection. Indeed, I argue that we can rightly claim to be leading the world in improving the quality of work for our constituents.
The hon. Lady seems to argue that it is wrong to be consulting on these issues. I hope the House will understand that in addressing the issues she raises—such as employment status in the gig economy, the rights of agency workers and better transparency in the workplace—we are modernising employment law to make it fit for the future world of work. We are seeking expert views on how to do that, which is absolutely right. Our intention is clear, and we are consulting the experts on how we deliver on that promise. Matthew Taylor himself has said that these issues are complex and we must take time to get them right, but the House should be clear that we are consulting on them in order to act. Rather than rolling back employment legislation, which we are sometimes accused of, we are improving the rights of workers and the enforcement of those rights.
The hon. Lady mentions the very regrettable case that has been in the newspapers over the past few days. I extend my sympathies to the family of the individual concerned. I cannot speak about individual cases, but I direct her to page 15 of our response. It clearly sets out what we are going to do to ensure we have the correct definition of workers’ status, so they can have access to the kind of things she is talking about—sick pay, days off and the ability to attend doctor appointments if necessary.
Is competition for workers in a fully employed market not the best engine for driving forward improved conditions?
I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding us that we have record numbers of people in work. Unemployment is at its lowest rate for 40 years. It is true to say that the labour market is tightening, but I see that as an opportunity. Businesses are realising that if they want to retain their best workers they need to offer the best possible arrangements for those workers. We are also clear that whatever the situation, we want to act to protect the most vulnerable workers in our society. That is what we are doing in the Matthew Taylor report: we are giving them the protection they need.
The Government’s response does not address the issue of bogus self-employment, which affects 1.8 million workers. The right to request is different from an actual right enshrined in law. Has the Minister looked at the contents of the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, in my name, which addresses many of these issues? Will the Government look at simplifying the definition of a worker to one definition, to eradicate bogus self-employment? Will they look to legislate to ensure that workers have a fixed and regular-hours contract? Will they address the issue of late-notice shift changes and cancellations, which affect those with caring responsibilities? What protections are there for workers under contractor liability where an employer ceases trading or absconds?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. What I would say is that this is addressed in our response to the Matthew Taylor review. What he is talking about is the need for a better definition of workers’ status, be that employed, self-employed or worker. We are consulting to make sure we address those points, and I am very happy for him to be a part of that consultation. I am very happy to talk to him and to talk about his Bill, but we are clear that by having a definitive definition of people’s employment status we can solve some of the problems he highlights.
Having sat on the joint BEIS and Work and Pensions Committee, I am really pleased to hear from the Minister today that the Government will adopt its recommendations. The area of case law on the meaning of “worker” is really complicated, so I understand the need for consultation to understand it. We heard evidence of Uber and Deliveroo not treating their self-employed workers as if they were employees. It is a complex area. I urge the Minister to do this as quickly as possible, because there are other issues to consider, such as national insurance contributions and how the Child Support Agency deals with self-employed earners. This is a big, big area, so getting that clarification quickly would be welcome.
My hon. Friend makes that point very clearly, and I thank her for the contribution that she and her fellow members of the Committee made to our decisions. She is absolutely right that we need to get on with it, and that there is huge complexity in relation to people’s status. If the only possible response, as it is at the moment, is to engage lawyers, go to the courts and undertake expensive litigation, that will not help the people she highlights at Uber, Deliveroo and so on. We are very clear about our intention, and we are getting on with the job to make it a reality.
I welcome the response to Matthew Taylor’s review—seven months after he published it. The Minister’s response today seems to be “we are now consulting the experts”, but that is exactly what the Government did when they asked Matthew Taylor and his panel to undertake their review. I am afraid there is very little from the Government’s response today that will do anything to genuinely help the bogus self-employed, including Don Lane, who are crying out for desperately needed reform. The Work and Pensions and BEIS Committees produced a Bill that the Government could take through Parliament, with cross-party support, to sort this out. The country is crying out for change. I urge the Government to be a little bit more ambitious.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are hugely ambitious. These proposals will help millions of workers. I pay tribute to the recommendations that her Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee made, and we are accepting all but one of the recommendations contained in that report. She will understand, as I think Matthew Taylor said when he gave evidence to the Committee, that this is hugely complicated, and we need to consult further. We are not consulting about whether we should do this; we are consulting about how we do it. I thank her for her contribution and reassure her that our ambition is strong.
I strongly welcome the measures set out by my hon. Friend. Alongside the living wage, they give the belief that we are the true workers’ party of the United Kingdom. Do the proposals also apply to apprentices, some of whom are not even paid the right apprentice wage?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his response and for the work he does to ensure that the Conservative party is the party of the worker. He is absolutely right: this Government are committed to ensuring that people get fair pay. That is why are putting a record amount—£25 million—into enforcing the living wage and the national minimum wage. As a result of that record commitment, we have seen a record £11 million of wages recovered for some of the most vulnerable and low-paid workers in our society. I assure him that all workers, including apprentices, are on our radar. We are beefing up the enforcement teams, and we are going to make sure that workers get the pay they deserve.
As the Prime Minister established the Taylor review in response to a report written by Andrew Forsey in my office, I thank the Minister for his statement. Previously the Government rejected one of the Taylor recommendations, which was that if workers in the gig economy were required to turn up to work at their employer’s request in times of low demand, they should still be paid the minimum wage. The Government rejected that proposal, thank God. Will the Minister again affirm that that is the Government’s position?
I place on record our thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his continued work in this area. He is right to say that that continues to be the Government’s position. However, we are consulting. The benefit to the employer is flexibility, but we have asked the Low Pay Commission to look again at whether people on zero-hours contracts should get some preferential, extra payment to compensate for the inconvenience.
Can the Minister confirm the Government’s plan in relation to employers’ national insurance contributions, to ensure that the tax system is not incentivising unscrupulous businesses to pretend that their employees are self-employed?
Clearly that is very high on the agenda. The work we are doing in relation to status will ensure that people who are genuinely self-employed are classified as such. Employers who are trying to game the system by pretending that someone is self-employed when in fact they are working will be addressed. The reality is that if it looks like work and feels like work, it is work, and people should be paid in the same way.
The Minister will recall the Government’s awkward embarrassment when they tried to align national insurance for the employed and the self-employed. Can he explain how the Government propose to deal with that outstanding anomaly?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. The Chancellor set out our approach to those matters, and I have nothing further to add at the moment.
I welcome the Government’s position on this and urge them to make quick progress, but there is one area in which employment rights are potentially about to be seriously damaged: the right of British citizens to work in 30 other countries in the EU and the European economic area as we leave the EU. What are the Government doing to ensure that young people and others have the opportunity to go and work overseas, bringing great benefits to their own career and, when they return, to their businesses or the companies for which they work, which they have enjoyed for many decades?
I wondered how long it would be before we got on to the “B” word, Brexit. I know that my hon. Friend is hugely concerned about that, as are businesses large and small up and down the country. He will have to wait a little bit longer, I am afraid. That announcement will, I am sure, be made by someone higher up the food chain than I, but I can assure him that the concerns of workers and British business are being heard by Government.
Zero-hours contract carers get paid for face-to-face work, so they get paid for every 15-minute visit, but none of the travelling time in between. They often have fragmented contracts and have to be available for work throughout the seven days of the week, and they do not have proper time off. That is one example. Then we have couriers, who have to deliver more than 100 packages a day for 48p a package. They often have to keep driving 15 hours a day, six days a week, and they are called self-employed. Surely the Minister has got to end that appalling practice by properly defining and enforcing employment law. Nothing he has said today has reassured me that he is going to help the 3.2 million people who are missing out on their basic employment rights.
Allow me to try to reassure the hon. Lady that those issues are being taken care of. She will be aware that a Green Paper on social care is imminent, and those social care issues will be covered within it. She talks about when workers in the gig economy are clocking on and off and what constitutes their working time. If she has read the report, she will know that we recognise that the law should be clearer about when people are being paid and the hours that they work. We will address that within the consultation and come up with firm proposals.
I warmly congratulate the Minister on the positive way he is taking forward the Taylor review and the Government’s ambitions. Back in May 2014, I brought forward a ten-minute rule Bill to ban unpaid internships. In 2016, I introduced a private Member’s Bill to ban unpaid internships—which the Labour party did not support, I hasten to add. When the Minister is dealing with the section of the Taylor review on unpaid internships, I urge him to liaise closely with our noble Friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, whose private Member’s Bill on that issue is in Committee in the other place at the moment.
I thank my hon. Friend for the great effort and the huge amount of work he has put into standing up for the rights of those young people who are being abused in relation to internships. He has raised that issue many times in the House, and I can reassure him that we are cracking down on sectors where unpaid interns are doing the job of a worker. There will be proper enforcement, and young people who feel they are being abused in that way will be covered. The enforcement will be strengthened, and we will ensure that those people get the wage they deserve.
While I of course welcome the publication of the Taylor review, may I press the Minister a little bit further? As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) said, the Taylor review recommends ending the Swedish derogation that allows agency workers to be employed for extended periods on worse terms and conditions than the person working by their side on a more permanent contract. Is the Minister still considering that recommendation, or is he going to ignore it?
I can be absolutely clear with the hon. Lady that we are very attuned to the impact of the Swedish derogation and how it can be used unfairly on workers.
The hon. Lady asks me what we are doing about it: we are specifically consulting. In the report, she will see that there are four consultations, and one specifically comes forward with proposals. [Interruption.] She may sigh, but we have to listen to the experts, and then we will deliver. We recognise the difficulties in relation to the Swedish derogation. We want to extend the support both for agency workers and those who feel that they are being disadvantaged—[Interruption]—on terms and conditions, exactly—and we will be taking this forward with firm proposals.
Is it not the case that the Government asked Matthew Taylor to undertake a report, Matthew Taylor brought forward some recommendations and the Government are getting on with implementing what Matthew Taylor asked the Government to do?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We can see from the response of Opposition Members that they realise this Government are bringing forward protections for millions of workers. This Government are providing them with sickness pay and holiday pay, and the enforcement needed to make sure that those vulnerable people on the lowest pay get the pay they deserve.
When Matthew Taylor came before the Scottish Affairs Committee, he spoke of the inspiration he derived from the Scottish Government’s fair work convention. Will the UK Government be implementing something similar?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and for the work that the Scottish Affairs Committee has done. We took a great deal of interest in that work, which raised some very interesting points. She raises the issue in relation to Scotland. Our focus is clear: we are delivering on the commitments—the 52 commitments—in the Matthew Taylor report, and we will be doing so as a matter of urgency.
While I am sure that millions of low-paid workers will welcome the fact that the Government are going to issue four consultations, they may well be more concerned that the Government’s own impact assessment on our leaving the European Union included the assumption that employment rights would be deregulated. Will the Minister tell the House which employment rights were included in the assessment, and whether the Government will make an ongoing commitment to maintain at least current employment rights?
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady clearly missed the three times I have said in response to this urgent question that not only are the Government committed to maintaining employment rights as they are currently set out, but we are going further in extending rights and protections to millions more workers. As a result of what we are doing by taking forward the brilliant work of Matthew Taylor, we will have employment protection that is not just as a good as in the rest of Europe, but the best in the world.
Opposition Members have a longer memory than Government Members, because we remember that this Government took away employment tribunal fees support and disallowed people even from accessing justice in the workplace. This is too little too late—four consultations—because we need transformational politics when it comes to employment regulations in this country.
I do have a long memory. I have a memory of the recession brought on by the previous Government, and I have a memory of the millions of people unemployed as a result of their policies. We are talking about memory, but the hon. Gentleman seems to forget that today we have one of the most dynamic economies in the world, record employment, record low unemployment, a minimum national living wage of £7.50 that was introduced by this Government, record numbers of women in work and an economy that is the envy of many.
The general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has said that these measures will do nothing to tackle the problem of what she describes as
“the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment.”
I know my constituents in Blaydon, many of whom work in the gig economy, will be disappointed that the Government have not taken a more dynamic and firm approach in tackling such basic rights and are putting this out for a further period of consultation.
I would just remind the hon. Lady that if she actually reads the report, she will see that we are asking the Low Pay Commission to consider higher minimum wages for workers on zero-hours contracts—
The hon. Lady says “Consider”, but I would have thought she was a supporter of the Low Pay Commission and that she would think this was a good idea.
We are creating a right for all workers on zero-hours contracts to request a more stable contract, and the Government want to go further than the Matthew Taylor report to address the issues of exclusivity of agency workers or those on zero-hours contracts. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) welcomed that; I know many in the trade unions organisation do.
One of the issues not within the scope of the Taylor review was that of unpaid work trials, which is regrettable. However, on 16 March my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) is bringing forward his Bill to end exploitative unpaid work trails. Will the Government be supporting it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am happy to meet his colleague to discuss his Bill.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Layla Moran, supported by Caroline Lucas, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine and Jo Swinson, presented a Bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 162).