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Column 367

Watts, John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Willetts, David

Wilshire, David

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Robert G. Hughes and

Mr. Michael Brown.

Question accordingly negatived.

Ms Ruddock : I beg to move amendment No. 55, in page 21, leave out lines 15 to 29 and insert--

13--(1) Where under the contract of employment of a shop worker who is either a protected shop worker or an opted-out shop worker (a) the employer is, or may be, required to provide him with shop work for a specified number of hours each week,

(b) the shop worker has done shop work on Sunday (whether before or after the commencement date), and

(c) the shop worker gives the employer written notice, signed and dated by the shop worker to the effect that this paragraph is to apply,

the employer shall be under a duty as far as reasonably practicable to provide him with shop work on weekdays in excess of the hours normally so worked by the shop worker on weekdays before he ceased to do shop work on Sundays to the extent that his earnings from the shop work so provided are equivalent to the earnings of the shop worker from working on Sunday on the last occasion when he so worked. (2) Any failure of the employer to offer alternative hours of work or to remunerate the shop worker as required by sub-paragraph (1) above shall be regarded for the purposes of paragraph 10 above as a detriment.'.

The Second Deputy Chairman : With this we may take amendment No. 39, in page 21, line 52, at end insert--

Right to Additional Hours 15a. Where an employer has available alternative work, an employee who has regularly worked on Sunday and subsequently gives notice of opting out has the right to be offered additional weekday hours.'.

Ms Ruddock : In putting these matters before the Committee, we are concerned specifically about endeavouring to maintain the vital voluntary principle that is attached to Sunday working, despite the way in which Conservative Members have just voted, because we believe that this principle is important and that premium payment is inherent in it. We seek, through the amendment, to ensure that where established employees who have been working on a Sunday and who, in many cases, have been in receipt of a premium payment seek to forgo Sunday work, they should not suffer any detriment in making that choice.

We believe that it is impossible freely to choose to give up Sunday working if, as a consequence, an employee will lose a substantial amount of income. We believe that, in many cases, an employer will have scope to enable the worker to make up his or her hours on other days of the week.

Threats to the voluntary principle result not just from employer pressure and employee intimidation--although we are all familiar with both and know that they are real and, sadly, could be widespread--but from sheer economic compulsion. More than three quarters of shopworkers--especially part-time employees--are women, and they are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. It is the pressure to gain some income that drives many people to work on Sunday. If retail employees doing additional work on Sunday seek to give up that work, it is essential that the voluntary principle be underpinned through recognition of the need of the workers to maintain a certain standard of living.

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Mr. Pike : I know of people who work voluntarily on Sunday but have been told clearly that, as the work pattern in their trade now involves a seven-day week, they will not have a full week's work if they do not work on Sunday. I assume that that is the type of vision that my hon. Friend is getting at in the amendment.

Ms Ruddock : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes an important point.

If a worker has been engaged and is working on a Sunday, that worker is obviously benefiting from wages for Sundays, whether double or plain-time. If the voluntary principle enshrined in the Bill is to be meaningful, it is obvious to us that many workers will not feel able voluntarily to opt out of Sunday working unless they can find some other means of getting the additional income. Many employers will have the scope to offer workers alternative hours during weekdays.

Most people who have been working on Sundays will be valued workers. The amendment seeks to persuade employers that they deserve such consideration. We should, therefore, adopt the amendment so that they can have a real choice as to whether to work on Sundays. In an earlier debate, the Minister suggested that there was no real comparison between the mechanism for opting in or out and a worker giving up his or her work. He said that opting in or out of Sunday working was a much smaller decision. I do not wholly agree with him because, for most Sunday workers, opting out will be a major decision. Even with the voluntary principle, most shopworkers will not easily opt out, for the reason that we have expressed again and again in this debate--they are there for the money. That is why they will work and will not easily give up that work.

If employees are not to be put in the position where they have no choice, they must be able to seek alternative hours. That is the thrust of the amendments. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to them.

Mr. Pike : This is an important issue concerning the protection of workers' rights. I spoke at length on this issue in a previous debate on the Bill on the Floor of the House.

We all know that there are volunteers and volunteers. When I did my national service, on the first day after we reported at the Royal Marines training centre in Lympstone we were asked to step forward as volunteers. We all did so because we felt that we had to. Workers feel the same way.

Many workers will volunteer to work on Sundays because they desperately need the money and know that they will not be employed if they do not take that option. Some workers have come to me saying that, although they originally chose to work on a Sunday as a part of their working pattern, they no longer wished to do so but had been clearly told by their employers that they could not be provided with a full working week within the other six days without doing a number of hours on a Sunday. They were told that, unless they wished to reduce their working week--they were receiving premium payments, so there was no argument about that being paid--they could not change to working on a different day because the working pattern was already established for those days. At that stage, Sunday working no longer remains voluntary but becomes compulsory. The only way that employees can get out of it is to opt out and reduce the number of hours that they work.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) was right to move the amendment, because it seeks to protect people who want to work Sundays now but may want to change in future. They want genuine protection for their working hours and earnings. We all know that, unless such assurance, as in the amendment, is written in the Bill, it will be meaningless and workers will not get the protection to which I--like many others--believe they are entitled.

Mr. Alton : I have some sympathy with the amendment. If it were passed in some form, perhaps not as it is written on the amendment paper, it would protect workers who opt not to work on Sundays. If the spirit of the amendment were accepted, it would mean that they could substitute another day instead and shift their working hours around.

The problem is in amendment No. 55, which contains the words "as far as reasonably practicable"

That clearly is a let-out measure. I should be interested to hear the Minister's view. I question how that could be enforced in law. It would allow an employer always to argue that it is not reasonably practicable for him to make such arrangements. Even if the amendment were accepted, it would not achieve what the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) have argued for. I hope that the Minister will assure us that, if the amendment does not achieve its objectives, he will at least accept the arguments that are being put tonight and look again at the principle, either on Report or in another place.

9.15 pm

Mr. Peter Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman is an optimist. I am afraid that, although I agree with some of his comments, I will not be able to give any encouragement that a similar amendment could meet those objections or that it would be right to do so. The amendments would ensure that shopworkers who have worked on Sundays but cease to do so are provided with additional weekday work to compensate them for the earnings that they would have made on Sunday or, in the case of amendment No. 39, if I follow it, for just the additional hours. I do not see how that could be done without being unfair to employees who worked only on weekdays but who would also like to work some extra hours during the week. They would find ex-Sunday workers getting preference for any extra hours going and, if amendment No. 55 had been carried, getting those hours at double time, too. There would be no justice in ex-Sunday workers getting priority over weekday workers. I believe that it would be unfair to employers as well, who would have to pay for the extra hours worked during the week and employ somebody else to do the Sunday work that had been vacated. That would be a very large extra burden, pushing up costs sharply and reducing efficiency.

The hon. Members who put their names to amendment No. 55 have, like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), at least partly recognised how unreasonable it is.

Ms Ruddock rose --

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Lady wants to tell me again that the amendment is reasonable.

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Ms Ruddock : The Minister correctly anticipates what I am about to say. We introduced reasonableness to the amendment because we have recognised some of the things that he is saying. In promoting the amendment, we seek to encourage best practice among employers. We believe that there is scope for that and that many employers might voluntarily make such arrangements, recognising the worth of their workers. We are attempting to give a little strength to that idea.

Mr. Lloyd : Like the hon. Lady, I am always in favour of best practice. It is a question of what we should write into the law. There is another difficulty, however, and here I return to what was said by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. What does "reasonably practicable" mean? The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) has formed an idea that is very satisfactory in terms of guidance and codes of practice, but it is not necessarily satisfactory in terms of law. It is hard for an employer to know what is "reasonably practicable" in legal terms. That would be extremely difficult for an employee--who would have to take the matter to an industrial tribunal--to assess and it would be impossible for the tribunal to judge, unless it engaged in a management audit of a shop's manning arrangements and adjudicated accordingly.

I believe that, if amendment No. 55 is passed, no one will know where he or she is. People will not know whether a shop is acting within the law if it fails to find extra weekday hours for ex-Sunday workers. If amendment No. 39 is passed, an unfair and, in some cases, insupportable burden will be placed on employers, to the especial detriment of weekday workers who would like extra hours during the week.

Mr. Pike : I have often heard Ministers defend the words "reasonably practicable" in other contexts. It seems strange that the Minister of State is not prepared to accept that wording now. Does the Minister not think it reasonable for an employee who now accepts Sunday working as a voluntary part of his working week to be given a first option to return to a working week involving the other six days if his circumstances change at some future date? Would not that constitute a fair extension of the voluntary principle involved in the legislation?

Mr. Lloyd : First, I am in favour of the use of the phrase "reasonably practicable" in legislation when it is "reasonably practicable" to use it. In these circumstances, I do not consider it practicable. Secondly, the question for most shopworkers who work full time during the week is whether, now that it is lawful to work on Sundays, they will do additional work on that day. I accept that the circumstances cited by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) could arise, but, under schedule 4, they would arise only if an individual shopworker chose to accept terms of that nature. An existing shopworker will start from scratch--that is, whatever was the agreement made on day one ; a new worker will have to opt into not just the idea of Sunday work but the particular arrangements proposed by the employer.

Mr. Pike : Is the Minister saying that the existing shopworker has that option only once and cannot reverse his choice later?

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Mr. Lloyd : Like anyone else, he will have the choice of reversing on three months' notice. Indeed, if the existing shopworker has not formally opted into Sunday work, he can continue to work on Sundays and stop at any time without notice. It is a complicated point but, if the hon. Gentleman reads the schedule carefully, he will find that the protections extend further than he seems to think.

The right to opt out is there for Sunday workers to use if their consciences or circumstances change. Employers should be under no obligation to make up the time that employees have freely chosen to give up. Of course, many employers will want, if they can, to find extra weekday time for valued Sunday workers who can no longer continue to work on Sundays. The larger employers will be better placed in that regard. I applaud such efforts and hope that they will be widespread, but I do not think it right to compel all employers to do the same in all circumstances. Although I see much merit in such action, I can envisage the legal difficulties correctly identified by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.

Ms Ruddock : The Minister has completely missed the point. He says that a shopworker can freely choose to give up Sunday working. Our point is that many shopworkers may find themselves with critical problems that necessitate their giving up Sunday working, perhaps for the sake of family obligations. They may not be able to do so, however, for economic reasons. We therefore believe it right that when a worker has been working Sundays and is forced by circumstances to try to opt out, he should be able to go to his employer with a reasonable request to be given alternative weekday hours. The Minister suggests that that is unfair to weekday workers, who may themselves want additional hours. We, however, are talking about workers who already have the hours and are possibly receiving premium payments for them. They may have to lose income, and that is why we propose the substitution of other hours. It is not an unfair principle : these people may incur financial loss--hence the reason for the amendment.

Arbitrary changes in hours of work, duties and even places of work are now commonplace. The employers certainly have the upper hand. They have even instituted zero-hours contracts, and various forms of casual and unprotected work are increasingly prevalent. We have heard plenty of testimony to that in these debates.

This was but a small attempt to give shopworkers a degree of control over their hours of work and how they are arranged. It was an attempt to redress the balance, which my colleagues and I believe has been tilting increasingly in favour of the employers. I regret the fact that the Minister has been unable to make a more positive response, but I hope that the employers will take note of what he has said about best practice and how it might be encouraged. That is very little for shopworkers to hope for, but it is clearly all they are going to get from the Government.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : I beg to move amendment No. 57, in page 22, line 12, leave out from employment)' to For' in line 18 and insert in subsection (3) (keeping of records)'.

The Second Deputy Chairman : With this it will be convenient to consider Government amendment No. 58.

Mr. Lloyd : These are technical amendments, reflecting the outcome of the vote on the choices held on the first day

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of the Committee of the whole House, before Christmas. They ensure that appropriate references in the Shops Act 1950 refer to the Bill rather than to the parts of that Act that this Bill repeals. Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made : No. 58, in page 22, leave out line 21.-- [Mr. Michael Brown.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

New clause 2

Terms and conditions of employment of Sunday-only workers

(1) Where a Sunday-only worker is employed on work substantially the same as work performed on a weekday by a shop worker in the same employment, if any term or condition of the contract of employment of the Sunday-only worker is or becomes less favourable than it would be if the worker was not a Sunday-only worker, the relevant term or condition shall be treated as so modified as to be not less favourable.

(2) A complaint by a Sunday-only worker that his contract of employment had not been treated by his employer as modified as required by subsection (1) above may be presented to an industrial tribunal.

(3) An industrial tribunal shall not consider a complaint under subsection (2) above unless it is presented to the tribunal before the end of the period of three months beginning with the date when the complainant became aware of the failure of his employer to treat the contract of employment as modified as required by subsection (1) above.

(4) Where an industrial tribunal finds that a complaint presented to it under subsection (2) above is well founded the tribunal shall make such of the following as it considers just and equitable (a) an order declaring the rights of the complainant and the respondent in relation to the act to which the complaint relates, and

(b) an order requiring the respondent to pay to the complainant compensation not exceeding the limit for the time being imposed by section 75 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. (5) In section 136 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 (appeals from industrial tribunals to Employment Appeal Tribunal) in subsection (1) after paragraph (g) there shall be inserted the words

"(h) the Sunday Trading Act 1994.".(6) In this section

"shop worker" has the same meaning as in Schedule 4 below and "Sunday-only worker" means a person who is employed as a shop worker to work only on a Sunday.'.-- [Ms Ruddock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms Ruddock : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. There are two objectives to the new clause. We seek to give rights to Sunday-only workers and to underpin the general worker protections in the Bill.

At present the majority of Sunday-only workers in the retail trade work illegally. If the House does not pass this Bill, we must assume that their retail outlets will be closed, and these workers will not work at all. It follows that those who would be covered by the Bill and who might become legitimate Sunday-only workers constitute a new group of workers--workers who, even under this Bill, would have virtually no rights. That seems inappropriate.

9.30 pm

We are used to the Government removing various employment protection provisions for workers. But, through the legislation, the Government propose to create a new pool of workers. The Opposition regard it as their

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duty to try to amend the Bill to make some provision for those workers. We seek to afford them rights on sick pay, pensions, holidays and other contractural benefits that are comparable with those of week-day workers. We are aware that those are contractual matters. It would be difficult for us or any other amenders of legislation to propose measures that interfered with those contracts. I am sure that the Minister would be quick to tell us that we could not do so. It is reasonable to seek to make some comparision between those who work for one day only, Sunday, and those who work for the same enterprise on a week day.

Effective worker protection under the Bill will depend on a number of factors. There are two key elements--first, a common culture of respect for the provisions across the board among employers and employees and, secondly, retail employers' commercial incentive to comply and/or disincentive for non-compliance. Sunday-only workers, by their very nature, fall outside the normal provisions of worker protection, and of the Sunday Trading Bill and existing legislation, principally, the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 because of their insufficient service time. That period is two years for those who are essentially full-time workers and five years for those working as few as eight hours.

Some Sunday-only workers may fall within the scope of existing employment protection. They will have to accrue the appropriate number of years of work before such protection becomes effective. At present, very few legal Sunday workers have worked the length of service required for their protection. Where workers have no protection, it is almost impossible for them, especially if they are without the benefit of trade union representation, to secure decent conditions and terms of employment.

Sunday-only workers form one of the most vulnerable groups of workers in our society. They are casual workers who are open to commercial exploitation. Not only might they be exploited on Sunday, but they might be pressed into employment on an ad hoc basis at other times. We believe that it is essential for their protection, and for the protection of week-day workers, that the terms and conditions of the Sunday-only workers are comparable with those of week-day workers.

As some of my hon. Friends said in an earlier debate, we do not want Sunday workers' wages and conditions to become depressed as Sunday trading increases, with a knock-on effect for the week-day worker. If the legislation is passed, Sunday workers will become a newly legitimised group. We seek to protect them and to ensure that they do not develop into a ghetto of casual workers on inferior terms.

Mr. Purchase : I support new clause 2. It is reasonable that people employed on a Sunday-only basis should enjoy protection on a pro-rata basis with colleagues in the same establishment who are full or part-time employees. I hope that hon. Members will be able to support the new clause.

Let us consider someone who has been employed on the basis that he or she will work only on Sundays with no prospect of remission with pay from that work. Although the clause keeps referring to "him", it really deals with "her" because it is almost inevitable that Sunday-only workers will be females. Their children will sometimes confound them by being sick the day after they have been in robust health. After spending a night looking after an ill child, or waking up to find their child is not well, there is

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no way that they can go to work. It is reasonable that a person in that position should receive, on a pro rata basis, sickness pay for the day when she is unavoidably absent from work.

People take on such employment to improve their household income. The word "pin money" was used earlier, but I suspect that not too many people work for pin money in the old-fashioned sense, but, rather, to supplement their income, which is inadequate for a decent standard of living.

A holiday entitlement should be given to those who are fortunate enough to work for a decent employer who--notwithstanding the comments of Conservative Members--pays double time and at sensible rates. It is wrong that we should even consider allowing someone to work 52 Sundays every year without a pro rata holiday entitlement. It is commonplace for workers to enjoy, after a period of time, 20 days or four weeks holiday per annum. Four Sundays off is all that the new clause seeks to provide. It would be just enough for Sunday-only workers to enjoy an Easter Sunday, a couple of weeks off in the summer or a week with the children during their Whitsun break. Those are eminently reasonably arguments.

I understand that the new clause has to be so long because it sets out new provisions for people who would not otherwise be covered. It is a plea on behalf of Sunday-only workers, who overwhelmingly are women, to enjoy the sensible pro rata arrangements that apply at their workplace. Those arrangements include sickness pay and allowing workers time off if their family, including relatives for whom they are responsible, unexpectedly fall ill. It is not unreasonable to expect a good employer to allow for that contingency and to allow sickness pay and holiday entitlement.

A Sunday-only woman worker may become used to an income of perhaps £15 a week, which may not seem much but is a lot for a family that is otherwise totally dependent on social security. She is the sort of worker who arrives for work 15 minutes before the shop opens and stays half an hour after it closes. It would be unfair not to pay her the income to which she has become accustomed and with the help of which she has elevated her family's status. She may have worked in that shop for three or four years and not had a day off or missed a beat.

Unless we include provisions in the Bill, the majority of employers, and certainly those who do not recognise trade unions, will not concede such workers' rights. It is reasonable for the House to provide pro rata benefits in sickness and holiday pay for women who will give up their time to enable us to shop on Sundays. Every hon. Member should support what is, after all, a very modest proposal.

Mrs. Wise : It would be intolerable if the Bill were passed without the new clause being added. It is an essential recognition of the fact that people who work only on Sundays are human beings with the same rights and needs as other workers. Without the new clause, there will be no guarantee that Sunday-only workers will have sick pay or holidays. Indeed, the probability is that they will not and that any time taken off work for whatever reason will be unpaid. Such arrangements are intolerable for Sunday-only workers and extremely dangerous for workers in general.

I am probably arguing my case in a way that will lose me any potential support from Conservative Members

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who, I am sure, would like nothing better than to find yet another mechanism to undercut and drive down wages and conditions. Nevertheless, I appeal to the Committee to accept the amendment. The retail industry is a major employer and it would be extremely dangerous to allow casual work to become so prevalent that it undermines the conditions of those who work more regularly at other times. In this instance, the interests of all shopworkers are the same--they need protecting. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.

Ms Glenda Jackson : My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) pointed out that, for a variety of reason, the majority of workers who work exclusively on Sundays are undoubtedly women. He also dealt eloquently with the problem of women who might be unable to go to work because their children have fallen ill. As he rightly said, children have a habit of suddenly becoming ill. However, women are responsible not only for family members at the younger end of the age range but, increasingly, for elderly relatives.

It has been estimated that women carers save the country in the region of £6 billion a year, which is a sizeable sum. Quite rightly, the country is moving towards the idea that as our life expectancy increases we should be cared for in our own homes as long as humanly possible. That is what care in the community is all about. Many women desperately need the additional sums that Sunday working provides, no matter how small they might be. However, they are caught in the trap of human values which I should have thought the Committee would be eager to preserve. Those values have to do with care and affection for members of the family, especially as they grow older. As a nation, we are living longer and the quality of our life is increasingly dependent on family members who are willing to care for us. The Committee should consider the issue seriously.

When we discussed the possibility of reducing the length of notice that must be given from three months to one month, the Minister said that that would strike especially hard at shops selling particular specialities to the consuming public. In the case under consideration that would undoubtedly be so, and it would strike against the very employers who take the time and trouble to train their Sunday-only employees, to make it incumbent on them that if, for a variety of reasons, one of the newly- trained Sunday-only employees could not work on that one day, that person would automatically have to be dismissed. The employer would again be on the treadmill of having to train workers and losing them once they were trained.

9.45 pm

Mr. Pike : Is not there a danger that if the shopworker falls ill but does not get sick pay he or she will turn up to work anyway? If such people are dealing with food, would not that be highly dangerous? In the interests of hygiene and of food safety we should ensure that sick pay is given, to enable workers to stay at home in such circumstances.

Ms Jackson : I thank my hon. Friend for making that valid point. In recent years there has been a marked increase in all forms of food poisoning, traced back to a reduction in standards of hygiene, especially where food is prepared. One of the growing trends is for large supermarkets to provide food for consumption, if not on

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the premises, within easy walking distance, so my hon. Friend makes a valid point. People would not think twice about turning up for work with a cold if they would otherwise lose money. Moreover, it is well documented both scientifically and medically that it is sometimes possible for people to be carriers of diseases from which they do not themselves suffer. The possibility of diseases spreading throughout the community becomes stronger if people who are desperate for the regrettably small sums that they earn on a Sunday have to calculate whether they will lose that money.

It is important for the Committee, especially Conservative Members, to readjust their thinking about what it means to be employed, and what the exchange of skills for wages means. There should be an equal contract, but among Conservatives there seems to be a prevailing view that it is a privilege to have a job. Given the shamefully high unemployment that the Government's economic policies and incompetence have heaped upon the country, that is not surprising, but as a House representing all the people of our country, we should not allow such ideas to sway us when we make decisions on such important amendments.

My hon. Friends and I have already said that most Sunday-only workers will be women. Those women sacrifice a great deal to enable their fellow citizens to shop on a Sunday, and the House should acknowledge those sacrifices. If the House is unwilling to acknowledge them in cash terms, in the money that people take home in their pay packets at the end of the working day, we should argue fiercely and strongly that what they cannot have in cash they should have in kind. They should be able to enjoy the benefits of other workers, although those are few in comparison with those of our European competitors--sick pay, holiday pay and the ability to participate as equal partners in a job that I sometimes think that Conservative Members do not regard as real work.

Conservative Members may consider it a doddle, to use a popular phrase, for a woman to sit at a check-out. They think that all she has to do is to pass the items that customers buy across a computerised machine. As I have said as someone who had her first experience of the working world as a shop assistant, it was an extremely draining job. One was constantly meeting members of the general public and on occasions they could be extremely bloody-minded.

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