Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hutton : The amendments and new clause are designed to ensure the effective operation of the employment protection measures already contained in schedule 4. These simple and modest proposals draw heavily on existing provisions in other areas of employment law--especially those relating to sex and race discrimination, and discrimination on the ground of trade union membership. I remind the House that the legislation on trade union-related discrimination was introduced by the present Government.

Schedule 4 protects existing as well as future employees from unfair treatment based solely on their unwillingness to work on Sundays. Sunday is a special day, in both the social and the religious and ethical senses ; it is right that shopworkers should enjoy special employment protection in recognition of that simple fact.

Paragraph 10 of the schedule already recognises and endorses the principle that employees should not suffer discrimination on the basis of an unwillingness to work on Sundays. We simply wish to extend that essential principle to prospective employees--job applicants. As drafted, schedule 4 will still allow employers to discriminate against employees who do not wish to work on Sundays : it implicitly tolerates the possibility that those seeking work in a shop will be discriminated against if they tell their prospective employer that they do not want to work on Sundays.

The Minister of State, Home Office has already implied that the Government consider our proposals unnecessary. Underlying his argument is the Government's view--expressed by the Secretary of State on Second Reading-- that new employees can always say that they do not want to work on Sundays. But what is to stop an employer from penalising those who express such unwillingness, recruiting only those who say that they will work on Sundays? There is a fundamental contradiction in schedule 4.

It would be singularly dishonest of Ministers to advise applicants to mislead employers, and, having gained employment, to take advantage of the opportunity to opt out of Sunday working. They might be understood to be telling applicants, "Do not tell your prospective employers the truth ; say that you are prepared to work on Sundays, wait to gain employment and then exercise the opt-out right conferred by the schedule." An industrial tribunal might well decide that an employer was justified in dismissing an employee on the ground that he or she was not honest when interviewed for the job. That principle of candour is enshrined in existing employment law. As the Minister of State, Department of Employment is no doubt

Column 306

aware, in numerous cases tribunals have told applicants that, because they lied to their employers, they cannot benefit from unfair dismissal provisions.

It is no argument against our proposals to say that they are unnecessary, because future employers will have the opportunity to opt out. That misses the fundamental point behind the amendment, which is that the schedule extends no employment protection measures to job applicants.

Paragraph 20 of the White Paper, published in July 1993, on the subject of discrimination against job applicants, offers us some early insight into the Government's thinking on recruitment. The Government argue in that White Paper that the Shopping Hours Reform Council proposal--that there should be protection against discrimination in recruitment--is "unworkable". There is no reason why that should be so. Whether it is unworkable will depend on the quality of the amendments proposed to the schedule.

There is nothing unworkable in principle about a provision designed to give protection to job applicants. We already give them protection in a number of other areas. I have already quoted the legislation governing race and sex discrimination. Indeed, this very Government introduced the principle that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their trade union membership when they apply for jobs. There is thus nothing unworkable about a principle of non-discrimination in job interviews and applications.

Another of the Government's arguments in the White Paper against any such proposals was that employers would be open to claims of discrimination by anyone who failed to be given a job and then said that was because he did not want to work on a Sunday. That too misses the point of the amendments, which the Government of course had not seen at the time. Nevertheless, their whole argument is flawed, overlooking as it does the fact that these are issues of proof and evidence that need to be argued before an industrial tribunal. We know, for instance, that the Government's legislation on union membership has not provoked hundreds of thousands of people to bring frivolous or vexatious litigation to industrial tribunals. Still, we were conscious of this possibility, and we drafted the amendments accordingly to make it a matter of proof before an industrial tribunal that the reason why a job applicant was not employed was chiefly his refusal to work on Sundays.

We start from the proposition that, underlying the principle of this schedule, is the simple idea that people should be free to choose whether to work on Sundays. If they choose not to, they should be immune from any form of victimisation. Indeed, paragraph 10 of schedule 4 endorses that principle, and the schedule itself is a reflection of it.

The schedule, however, does not go far enough. How is the freedom to choose whether to work on Sundays guaranteed--sanctified? I ask that because of the omission of any provision in the Bill to protect job seekers. Effectively, there will be one law for existing and future employees and no protection for people who might want to enter the labour market as shop workers.

I have established that the amendments are not unworkable and that they will not lead to abuse. To claim the contrary is a spurious argument designed to lay a false trail.

Column 307

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr.

Grocott)--unfortunately not in his place--has drawn attention to the sardonic nature of the schedule. After 15 years of a Conservative Government whose members have systematically taken as one of their fundamental objectives the dismantling of decent employment protection laws, they now propose to recreate some of those very employment rights. The hollowness of their approach can be seen when it comes to these amendments. I therefore urge Conservative Members not to let their prejudices get in the way of common sense and fair play in respect of job protection rights for job seekers. Given the need to recognise the special ethical considerations of Sunday working, we should pay particular attention to the situation of job seekers. It is just not acceptable to regulate for future and existing employees but to omit from the framework of law the position of job seekers.

It is worth noting that there is little logic behind the Government's objections to the amendments. I have already said that the principle underlying the schedule is that Sunday working is genuinely optional and cannot be enforced, so why will not that protection extend to job applications? What is the fundamental objection to such an extension? It certainly cannot be logical. It can only be ideological : that it is not right for the Government to intervene in this way. But I reiterate that the absence of any provision for job seekers is to be regretted.

The amendments closely follow the wording of other areas of employment law dealing with job discrimination, and are therefore not new in any sense-- the idea behind them is well established. There is nothing unworkable, unsound or unsatisfactory about them. They are drafted so as to allow employers to recruit employees for Sunday-only working. We are aware that we do not want to encourage unnecessary applications to industrial tribunals. Their workload is already heavy and they are already under pressure. We do not want to add to it by creating bogus cases. We have thus recognised that if an employer wants to recruit people solely to work on Sundays, he should be free to do so--the amendments would not prohibit him from doing that. We do say, however, that if the employer imposes a condition of Sunday working when the work itself is not exclusively related to Sunday, that constitutes an unfair industrial practice that can generate a claim before an industrial tribunal.

If the Government respond to these amendments by saying that they will result in unnecessary claims before tribunals--bogus claims motivated by a desire merely to get compensation--we say that that argument is incorrect and cannot be substantiated. Of course, such arguments can always be deployed ; we simply do not accept that they are sustainable in this case.

It is clear, I hope, from the amendments that compensation under new clause 4--if it becomes part of the Bill--will be in line with existing employment protection ceilings. There may be argument about whether those are adequate, but it should be borne in mind that, under these proposals, the tribunal will have discretion as to the remedies that it awards in a successful case. We do not prescribe a manadatory award of compensation for every case brought under this part of the schedule. We merely say that the tribunal can make an order declaring

Column 308

the rights of the parties, if it thinks fit, or can in addition make an award of compensation, subject to the ceiling set out in section 75 of the Employment Protection Act 1975.

If the Government argue that the amendments will impose unnecessary costs on employers, we will argue that that cannot be sustained. As I have said, we borrow the concept of compensation from unfair dismissal legislation in Government proposals. We have applied that concept to job seekers who are discriminated against solely because they decline to work on Sundays.

We are also conscious of the fact that there is always a problem with the burden of proof before industrial tribunals. The Government's White Paper clearly stated their concern that there will be frivolous applications-- that people will allege that they were not offered employment because they would not work on Sundays, and that that will generate new and troublesome litigation. We are conscious of that problem and have tried to deal with it in the amendments. New clause 4 involves the burden of proof as it relates to job advertisements. The new clause will assist the applicant who alleges that he or she is being discriminated against on the basis of Sunday working. It is always difficult to assess the burden of proof in discrimination cases. It would be misleading for Ministers to say that the law on discrimination itself is an invitation for people to bring claims to industrial tribunals. We are aware of the problems surrounding the burden of proof and have tried to deal with them fairly in the amendments.

5 pm

A careful perusal of the amendments and new clause 4 should lead all hon. Members to the same conclusion--that they are necessary to fill a gap in schedule 4. If it is acceptable to protect existing and future employees, why is it not acceptable to protect job seekers or job applicants? In principle, there should be no distinction between the protection afforded those three groups. If the two groups future and existing employees--are to be protected, the third group--job seekers--should also have access to that protection.

The amendments are sensible and well considered. They are designed, rightly, to improve the job prospects of people in the labour market for retail work. They are designed to recognise the special ethical and social considerations that properly apply to Sunday working. Opposition Members do not regard it as acceptable that people seeking work in shops should be discriminated against if they do not choose to work on Sunday. That is an illogical, unacceptable and immoral proposal, which the House should not be prepared to accept. I hope that common sense and fairness will prevail in the debate. I hope that Conservative Members, particularly Ministers, will tell their supporters that the amendments make sense, fill a gap in the schedule and should be supported. I hope that Ministers will give the amendments sensible and reasoned consideration. I hope that they will not fall back on the empty arguments and windy rhetoric of the White Paper, which tried to argue that debate on employment protection in schedule 4 was unworthy. Job applicants are clearly deserving of employment protection. We recognise that principle in other sectors, and there is no logical reason why it should not apply to job applicants.

I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Conservative Members, to show fairness and support the amendments.

Column 309

Mr. Alton : I strongly support the case of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), who advanced a logical and compelling argument. I hope that the Minister will save us time by saying that he accepts the logic of the argument--I can see that the Minister is shaking his head. In doing so, he gives the game away. If the Government are not prepared to extend something as reasonable as the provision to prospective job hunters, what is the legislation about? It must involve the same subject as yesterday's debate--total deregulation of the market and the removal of the last vestige of protection from employees. It should be seen in that context. A report by Kevin Brown appeared in the Financial Times on 7 December 1993. It stated :

"A former employee of a London menswear chain claimed yesterday that he had been forced to accept a contract requiring him to work on Sundays against his will.

The claim follows earlier allegations that leading retailers such as J. Sainsbury have put pressure on employees to work on Sundays." The report continued :

"Mr. Matthew Phillips, a former supervisor for the Mister Byrite chain, said he had been given an hour to sign a contract making Sunday a normal working day.

The revised contract stipulates that Sunday is the first day of the working week, and that employees will be paid at the company's normal rates.

Mr. Phillips, who left the company voluntarily in April, said he signed the contract because he was told he would be made redundant if he refused.

The details of Mr. Phillips' contract were confirmed by Mister Byrite, which says that 350 other employees accepted the changes without complaints."

Presumably, those employees were fearful of losing their jobs if they did not accept the changes.

The report continued :

"Mr. Mick O'Connor, general manager, said the contracts were issued to put all employees on similar terms when it became obvious' that the group would have to trade on Sundays to protect its market share.

Mr. O'Connor denied that employees had been forced to sign the contract. He said, however, that Mr. Phillips was told that he should reconsider his future in retailing if he refused to sign." That case is borne out by a letter that I received this week from a Mr. Turner of Harbledown road, Sanderstead in Surrey. He wrote : "My son, who is aged 17 and still at school, has a part time job at Allders department store in Croydon. They have asked him on several occasions to work on a Sunday, but he has refused. However, they are now preparing for Sunday trading and have asked him to sign a new contract under which he agrees to work on Sunday if asked". He has been told that

"if he refuses they have the right to dismiss him."

We know what the law is supposed to do, and we know that various voluntary arrangements are supposed to apply to existing employees. If they do not stand for existing employees, what chance have prospective applicants--the group that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness is trying to protect? The incorporation of the new clause is vital if Sunday working is to remain a voluntary activity. There is no point in granting protection from discrimination to employees once they are in work, as the Government have already done, if similiar protection is not also granted to prospective employees. The new clause would grant that necessary protection.

The Government have made concessions on employment protection for future retail employees that mean that people starting new jobs in the retail sector will have the

Column 310

right not to work on Sundays if they choose not to do so. Those concessions will be rendered worthless unless the new clause wins the support of the Committee today.

Hon. Members have made it perfectly clear that, whether or not they favour widespread Sunday trading, they want any work done on Sundays to be undertaken by willing volunteers who have freely chosen to give up a common day off with their families and friends. Without the sort of protection that the hon. Gentleman is trying to extend, it will be impossible to meet that objective.

Hon. Members are surely agreed that freedom to choose a common day off should be enduring. The Committee accepts the principle of providing some protection to the 2.2 million retail workers currently employed in the retail sector. We must not forget that the retail sector has an extremely high turnover of staff. Each and every year between 20 and 40 per cent. of retail employees change jobs. Given that fact, there is no point in protecting future employees from discrimination once they have started work if they can be discriminated against while they are applying for jobs. Any job applicant expressing a desire not to work on Sundays will be rejected out of hand, as the letter from which I have quoted shows. With so many people on the dole at present, employers who open on Sundays will undoubtedly choose the most compliant and submissive applicants. Unless the new clause wins the support of the Committee, everyone who applies for a retail job in future, and who does not want to work on Sundays, will not stand a chance of obtaining work. Job applicants will be forced to renounce their right to a common day off with their families. They will be sorely tempted to lie about their intention not to work on Sundays, as the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness said.

Is that the sort of society that we want to create? Do we want people to tell a pack of lies in order to obtain a job because they know that that is the only way that they can gain access to the employment market? If they lie they will have a far better chance of obtaining a job, and once they have the job they can give notice of their intention not to work on Sundays and acquire the

protected-employee status which the Government say will be available under the legislation. If it is logical to provide that protection once someone is employed, why is it not logical to do so in advance? There is a serious danger that the Bill, as it stands, could become a charter for liars, so that people resort to dishonesty merely to secure a job. The new clause will do away with that danger and ensure that Sunday working remains voluntary--the principle that all hon. Members are supposed to accept.

Unless people who change their jobs or who apply for a job for the first time are given statutory protection against discrimination, within a few years only a tiny fraction of retail workers will still be able to enjoy a common day off with family and friends, without fear of discrimination or dismissal. The Government are aware of that. Many Conservative Members who supported the total deregulation option have a secret agenda, which they revealed in yesterday's debates and which they are determined to force through regardless of any paper-thin assurances that are incorporated in the Bill. That is a dreadful prospect for Britain's shopworkers, families and communities. New clause 4 would prevent that dreadful prospect from becoming reality and I hope that it will commend itself to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

Column 311

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : The amendment is important. I believe strongly that it particularly affects women who wish to return to work after having a family. On one matter, however, I take issue with the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton). I do not believe that people who decline on principle to work on Sundays would succumb to the temptation to lie. We would be catching, so to speak, decent people twice over because they would not lie to preserve their jobs. All those who value family life and the principle of Sunday should vote for the amendment and I shall most emphatically do so.

Ms Eagle : After spending many hours on the Bill in Committee, I feel somewhat relieved that we have finally reached the meat of the Bill. Some hon. Members who voted for partial deregulation were uncertain about what the final terms of the Bill would be and how we would vote on Third Reading. Until we finish debating schedule 4, which should have been considered at the beginning of the process, some of us will still not know how to vote on the Bill as a whole. Amendment No. 64 is the first in a series of important amendments that will allow us to decide whether the provisions of schedule 4 offer adequate and meaningful protection for those who may be required to work on Sunday.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said that two considerations guide them in the matter. The first, on which the House has agreed, is that all Sunday working should remain voluntary. The amendments deal with that principle. The second, which we shall debate later, is that there should be a proper reward for Sunday working.

In considering the amendments, we should decide whether retail workers who may be required to work on Sunday have entirely voluntary contracts. I shall not be as uncharitable to Ministers as some of my hon. Friends about the worker protection provisions of schedule 4. I served on the Committee that considered the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill last year and fought a constant battle to avoid the stripping down of worker protection. I therefore find the worker protection provisions in schedule 4 a revelation. They show how much pressure the Sunday shopping lobby has put on the Government to provide reasonable protection and to enable shops to open on Sundays.

I do not object to shops opening on Sundays, but the crux of the decision is that Sunday working should be voluntary and that proper employment protection should be available to those who will be asked to work on Sunday.

One difficulty is that, after 15 years of union-bashing legislation, which has weakened employee rights and protection, we are attempting to add employment protection measures to employment legislation that offers workers weak protection. Another difficulty is that we are having to fit employment protection measures into a complex system of employment law, to which many of my hon. Friends have referred. Workers face difficulty in claiming their rights. That is the background to the amendments.

The Bill offers existing and future employees two statutory protection measures on voluntary working. Those measures pose some difficulties and I shall comment on how effective they are when we discuss schedule 4. New clause 4 deals with a new category of workers : job seekers

Column 312

and potential workers. It aims to provide them with the same protections as the Bill provides existing workers and those who will work on Sunday.

5.15 pm

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) said, the Bill offers no protection against discrimination for job seekers. That gaping hole must be plugged if the legislation is to have any credibility and to offer reasonable protection for retail workers.

I agreed with the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who reminded us of the high turnover of staff in the retail sector, which makes useless the protection for existing workers. The protection offered by schedule 4 will apply only to a certain percentage of the retail work force. Until we plug the gap, people who leave retail jobs or start new ones will have no effective protection. That will be the position for a large percentage of workers in the retail sector.

We should not pretend that we have reasonable protection for workers and are offering retail workers a choice if they will not be employed because they are not prepared to work on Sundays. Although we have had concessions from the Government, they will not be worth much if the gap is not plugged. Turnover in the retail industry is an important factor.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, the way in which current anti-discrimination law works provides a reasonable model for ensuring that job seekers have the protection that we are seeking to extend to existing and future shop workers.

Another group of workers is covered neither by the amendments nor the Bill. I should be interested in the Minister's interpretation of the Bill because I may be wrong about that. The new protections and statutory rights against dismissal and detriment appear to protect existing and future shop workers who opt out, but contract workers, who might be described as freelance, casual workers and who might be on one of the new zero-hour contracts to which I referred earlier, and those workers whose service is interrupted for reasons other than maternity leave, will not be protected. I may be misunderstanding the Bill and I should be more than happy to be corrected on the matter, but many workers who may be described as self-employed are increasingly casual, freelance workers. As a result of deregulation in the labour market, they form an increasingly large percentage of that market and I am not certain that they are covered by the Bill. I should appreciate clarification of that matter.

If we are to make the Bill stick and if we are to be able to say that we have reached a genuinely good compromise, one that can be supported by shop workers and by Labour Members who are desperately worried about the pressure that might be brought to bear on a deregulated and often un- unionised work force--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : The hon. Lady keeps referring to Labour Members, but she should know that appealing to her colleagues is not enough --she needs to attract some Conservative Members to her side.

Ms Eagle : It is for Conservative Members to decide what they think is right when they come to vote. I was saying that Labour Members are especially worried about appropriate and proper employment protection. One has only to consider the Government's record to realise that the Conservatives have not always covered themselves in

Column 313

glory in this respect. The hon. Lady will doubtless make up her own mind, but I hope to see her with us in the Lobby tonight. We shall make the Bill stick and I shall vote for it on Third Reading only if we can tell our constituents that the protections granted under schedule 4 are genuine, enforceable and easily usable by a work force who are often vulnerable, un-unionised and perhaps working in small companies where they are unsupported by colleagues. They may be unsure of their rights and unable to go to experts for help. We must be able to prove to ourselves and our constituents that the protections in schedule 4 are workable. I shall not vote for the Bill on Third Reading unless I am satisfied that that is the case. One way of proving that the protections are workable would be to plug the hole that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has sought to plug with the excellent amendment. I hope, too, that we shall receive assurances on a range of other issues that I should not even dream of mentioning at this stage because I know that you would leap up and rule me out of order instantly, Mr. Morris.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance about contract workers and casualised workers and that the Committee will realise the crucial nature of the amendment and support it so that we can extend to job seekers and the hundreds of thousands of people who regularly change jobs in the retail sector the choice of whether to work on Sundays.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : I shall be brief, but I wish to reiterate the concern of all hon. Members that people should not be forced to work on Sundays against their conscience.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). As he knows, I sympathise with him on some issues, but that is not the case today. He said that if someone went to a job interview and said that he did not want to work on a Sunday for reasons of conscience he would not be employed. That is absolute twaddle. He should know by now that one of the greatest problems in the retail trade is the fact that a certain amount of wastage is caused by employees helping themselves to some of the stock at the end of the day.

If someone told a retailer that he was a dedicated Christian and therefore did not want to work on a Sunday but promised to give value for money on the other days, I happen to believe that the retailer would appoint him because he would know that he was honest and a man of integrity. I should have thought-- [Laughter.] I am surprised that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) does not believe that people want to employ men of integrity and honour. I should have thought that that was exactly--

Ms Jackson : Is the hon. Gentleman asking the Committee to accept the bizarre suggestion that integrity can be found only among those who practise the Christian religion? How can he say that in view of the many other religions practised in this country?

Mr. Marshall : I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady's comment because, as she knows, I have said many times that the precepts of the Torah are equally as good as those of the New Testament. If someone says he is a Christian

Column 314

and can be trusted, his word is worth something, but people of other religions can be trusted equally. It is wrong to assume that people with a particular religious faith about which they feel strongly do not on the whole tend to be honest and honourable employees whom anyone would be happy to employ.

Mr. Alton : The hon. Gentleman accused me of speaking twaddle. I have heard some strange things in the House over the years, but what he said leaves me virtually speechless--but not entirely speechless, he will be glad to learn. Is he seriously suggesting--if he is, it is an extraordinary slur--that only a certain group of shop owners are honest and likely to be trustworthy? I was talking about applying for a job. If a candidate for a job told an employer that he was not prepared to work on Sundays, does the hon. Gentleman think that he would get the job, bearing in mind the current state of the job market in which many people are chasing every position?

Mr. Marshall : I did not say that all shopworkers were dishonest. I said that one of the retail industry's problems was that some shopworkers were dishonest and that, as a result, a certain amount of produce disappeared through the back door at the end of the day without being paid for.

Ms Jackson : Surely the Bill has been introduced because of the basic dishonesty--to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase--of the people who manage the retail industry. It is the management of the large shops who break the law.

The Chairman : Order. The amendment is not about slippage.

Mr. Marshall : There may be a certain amount of shrinkage. Let us consider the Sunday employment pattern in the retail industry. The vast majority of those who now work on Sundays do so voluntarily. Some shops have so many volunteers that they have to draw up a roster.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I know that he is having a rough ride. I do not ask him to give way merely to interpret the flow of his thoughts. He seems to be suggesting that employers will find it possible to staff their shops with volunteers on Sundays and will therefore be willing to employ someone who refuses to work on a Sunday. I know of a director of a shop that sells china and glassware in my constituency. He happens to be a committed Christian and, although he broadly supports the Keep Sunday Special stance, he said :

"We are wary of legal protection for shopworkers who choose not to work on Sundays since, if we are forced to open on Sundays through continuing to lose so much business, we will need to staff our shop with people with specialist knowledge and experience."

That shop, which sells specialised goods, cannot be alone. Many shops will need to call on their staff if they are forced to open on Sundays because of competition. Surely the hon. Gentleman is wrong to argue that someone who says at an interview that he or she refuses to work on Sundays will not be jeopardising his or her chances of employment.

Mr. Marshall : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that remarkably concise intervention. If one considers the shops that open on Sundays at the moment--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Cheats.

Column 315

Mr. Marshall : Does my hon. Friend wish to intervene? If so--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I was defining those who open on Sundays as cheats.

Mr. Marshall : Perhaps the small shops that the hon. Lady supports, which have been opening for a long time, have been cheating and other shops have decided to emulate their behaviour.

We were talking about employee protection. We must recognise the fact that many people volunteer and many retailers currently have a queue of people waiting to work on Sundays, and are only too anxious to do so.

5.30 pm

Mr. Hutton : The whole point of law making is to allow for unforeseen circumstances. There may well be, as the hon. Gentleman says, a surplus of workers prepared to work on Sunday now. But can he confidently say that that will always be true? In the House we should be trying to make legislation that will stand the test of time. That is the reason for the new clause and the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have grasped it.

Mr. Marshall : One has to look at current trends and trends over recent years to decide whether there is likely to be a sudden reduction in the number of people who want to work on a Sunday. If that happened, because of a sudden change in the attitude to Sunday working and shopping

Ms Eagle : Is the hon. Gentleman trying to argue that so long as there is a ready supply of people who want to work on Sundays they should not have any protection at work?

Mr. Marshall : I did not say that. I have given way many times and that is the last interruption that I, and others, will put up with. The flow of my speech is becoming even more disjointed than it was at the beginning.

We must accept the fact that there are many volunteers. When the people who run the retail trade make appointments they look for individuals of integrity. If someone said that he would not work on Sundays, most employers would say, "That guy"--or that lady--"is a person of integrity and that is the sort of person whom I want to employ."

Mrs. Wise : As my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) said, the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) had a rough ride. I now want to comment on what he said from a different point of view. If he thinks that in general employers would not discriminate against a job seeker because they would regard a person with scruples as an honest person of integrity and probity, why does he resist the amendment?

The hon. Gentleman cannot say that nobody would be discriminated against. He may say that it would not happen to the majority, but what about the minority? He may suggest that if only a few people are involved the problem does not matter--but we do not frame our other laws in that way. A very small minority of people are murdered, but we still have laws against murder, to protect people. We must press the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for a better reason for resisting the amendment. We are not trying to

Column 316

forecast how often the amendment would take effect ; we are simply saying that it should be there to be used when needed.

I shall stress briefly two other aspects of the argument. First, the high turnover in the retail trade means that over a relatively short period most of the people affected will be job seekers. There has always been an enormously rapid turnover in retailing, but that is now exacerbated by the increasing practice by some large employers of giving people only temporary contracts. Now there is a turnover of staff even when the staff are reluctant for that to happen. The fact that increasing numbers of people are being forced to seek jobs makes the amendment all the more important.

The other important aspect is the dilemma in which people will be placed without the protection in the new clause--a dilemma that it is impossible for applicants to resolve satisfactorily. As the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said, there will be those who will not stoop to lying. I think that a substantial number of people will fall into that group, because they will resent being put into the position of having to lie, and will resist the pressure. Nevertheless, they will feel the pressure and people who have failed to get a job will wonder whether they did the really moral and ethical thing if their family suffers as a result. The job may have been desperately needed.

No applicant for work should be put in the position of either having to lie or being unreasonably refused a job. The Committee should take that matter extremely seriously. I agree with the hon. Member for Lancaster that, despite the risk of losing--or rather, not gaining--the job, many people will resist the pressure to lie. But what about those who do not, those who lie to the employer because they feel that in their circumstances the pressure is irresistible? Such a person may get the job, but will not feel happy about the way in which it had to be secured.

If, later, such a person seeks to opt out of Sunday working, he or she may be dismissed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) explained, that person may have thrown away the possibility of protection, because a tribunal may deem that, by lying, the employee had behaved in a way that justified the employer's lack of confidence in him or her. That is an outrageous gap to leave in the law, so I hope that the Minister will not resist the amendment. I consider it to be crucial if there is to be anything like fair play for people who work, or seek work, in retailing.

Next Section

  Home Page