|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
My hon. Friend speaks with great experience and wisdom. It is a case not of either/or, but of both. Investing in employees is something that a lot of businesses
do. The money to do that comes out of their profits, but it is regarded as investment, not expenditure. It is important that businesses continue to invest in their staff and to make sure that they are properly trained. Some businesses enable their staff to complete degrees or higher education courses that they started before commencing work with the business. All of that is done by enlightened firms. What the Bill deals with is the activities of some unscrupulous employers in this country. Clearly, even under current law, there will be unscrupulous employers.
The minimum wage has been mentioned: some people employed by businesses or other people are paid less than the minimum wage. That is happening now, and it is against the law. The legislation is on the statute book and it must be properly enforced. I heard the Minister say that we have a wonderful bus travelling around, at a cost of £3 millionit must be a nice bus.
Mr. McFadden: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman knows that the bus does not cost £3 million, or anywhere near it. The £3 million is spent on hiring more enforcement staff and advertising the availability of the minimum wage more widely. The bus, which is an effective mechanism in localities, costs a small fraction of that sum. [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Evans: The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) says from a sedentary position that it must be the cost of the petrol for the bus. I am relieved to hear what the Minister says about the expenditure of £3 million, as it is important to get the message across to workers that they have rights and should not be paid less than the minimum wage. Clearly, some people are scaredthat is what it comes down to. The employera bit of a thugthreatens the employee, saying that if they blow the whistle about being paid less than the minimum wage, they will lose their job, or something even worse will happen to them. That sort of behaviour must be eradicated. We have to do more to ensure that all employers respect the minimum wage legislation and do not undercut, in all senses of the word.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the present law does not give workers enough protection? We saw that recently in the James case in the Court of Appeal, where a woman was employed as a housing officer by Greenwich borough council for three years, but as an agency worker. It was a means of avoiding giving her the employment rights that she would have had had she been appointed permanently. Is it not an abuse to employ someone on a temporary contract for three years?
Mr. Evans: I am staggered that the temporary job, if it went on for three years, was not translated into a permanent post, because in some cases, the amount of money that an organisation, whether a local authority or a business, pays for an agency worker is disproportionately high. It is not as though businesses always cut corners and save money by employing an agency worker: an agency worker can cost substantially more than taking on a permanent employee. There are all sorts of reasons why people take on temporary workers and all sorts of reasons why temporary workers want to be temporaryfor example, they like the flexibility that such arrangements offer.
Philip Davies: On that point, have not the present Government piled on to businesses more and more costs and regulations relating to taking on permanent employees? It is no wonder that lots of employers have turned to temporary workers, given that administration of permanent employees is such a nightmare. Is not the problem that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) is trying to tackle one of this Governments making?
Mr. Evans: I wonder. There has to be a reason why businesses want to use agency workers for a longer period. It may well be that companies decide that they do not want to go down the route of having a human resources department, which will cost their business a fortune. Instead, they outsource to agencies such as Manpower, and then how much it costs to employ people is much more transparent. When the company takes everything into account, it may well be that the amount they pay for a permanent worker is substantially higher. All the extra rules and regulationsall well intended, no doubthave a massive impact on employers. I guess that that is why the costs are substantially higher now.
I referred to agency nurses being paid £120 an hour by health trusts. That was on the front page of Metro and in The Times. That is a staggering amount of money. That money should be going into employing permanent staff in hospitals, which would lead to substantial savings that could be spent on front-line services for the people who need to use the hospitals.
any person who is supplied by an...employment agency.
Can he envisage what will happen if a happy couple who have employed a group of musicians from an employment agency to perform at their wedding reception, decide that they want the group to go on after the resident band at the hotel? That could lead to litigation under the Bill as drafted. That would be an unintended consequence.
Mr. Evans: I should have thought that my right hon. Friend would have at least declared an interest as a musician and a member of MP4, the notorious group that we have in this place. No doubt it is available for hire at weddings. I have never seen such a flagrant plug.
My right hon. Friend has picked up on one potential unintended consequence of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston would not want to get someone involved in unnecessary litigation over something that he did not think the Bill was going
to cover in the first place. That is the problem. The Minister is correct when he says that the Bill has deficiencies. There are elements missing that could involve companies in substantial costs. For example, what is an agency worker? Is it someone who works one day? Seven days?
Mr. Weir: The hon. Gentleman has twice talked about agency nurses being paid £120 an hour, but will he clarify whether that is the payment made to the agency or to the nurse? One thing that agencies often do is charge a great deal of money to supply workers, so it can be more expensive for the NHS trusts to employ agency workers.
Mr. Evans: I agree. I am unable to clarify for sure, but I suspect that it is the cost to the agency, not the nurse, and then the agency will top-slice whatever the amount in order to provide the service. After all, the service of agencies is to provide the people, which comes at a cost as well. I rather hopeI have tabled a parliamentary question on this matterthat the £120 figure was somehow or other a one-off anomaly and that there are not substantial numbers of agency nurses being paid that incredible sum of money, which, as I said, could be better and more properly used employing full-time staff so that the money saved could be put into front-line services in hospitals up and down the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said that we should take into account what it is like running businesses these days and the wider implications of employing people, including all the paperwork and the fact that advice has to be sought on the ever-changing rules and regulations that pertain to the rights of people working in the company. There is often a plethora of such stuff and many people simply do not have the time to read much of the information that comes through the letterbox or to fill in the questionnaires that the Government send out. Such things take up a substantial amount of time, but we should remember that many businesses are small businesses, possibly comprising two or three people or are even a one-man band.
Let us take the example of digital switchover. Many more aerials and satellite dishes may need to be installed in only a short space of time and it may well be that more workers will need to be taken on for a short period to deal with pressure points in certain areas. Employers may not want to go through the rigmarole of issuing full-time contracts, given the short space of time involved. That is why they may want to employ agency workers. It is important to appreciate the mindset of people who own businesses and the costs to them if the Bill becomes an Act.
It is all very well to dismiss what the CBI and the Institute of DirectorsI declare my interest as a member of the IODsay, but we should not do so too easily because they represent a lot of people who employ a lot of people, including agency workers. They have the relevant experience, so it cannot be right for us simply to ignore it and say that because everyone said that the minimum wage would be a disaster, but it was not, the outcome will be the same with the Bill. We
should not operate according to such guidelines. We need properly to take into account the Bills full implications.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): No one is trying to dismiss the argument that we need to protect and optimise conditions for employment, but the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members seem to dismiss the need to ensure that we do more to protect conditions of employment.
Mr. Evans: I am sorry if that it is how it is coming across, because that is the last thing that I would want to convey. When I was at university, I earned a little extra money by working for Manpower for a while. I was counting traffic, which was a bit boring, for one short stint of time in Wales and in another stint I worked for the Hudsons Bay company in London. It provided great insight and it was Manpower that gave me the opportunity to have different tasters of jobs that I would not otherwise have thought of doing, so I have been on the receiving end as an agency worker.
If someone is doing such agency work for a long time and no one in the household has a permanent jobin other words, someone is on a rolling programme with an agencyit makes buying a house very difficult. Getting a mortgage usually involves saying how much we earn on a permanent basis. For some people one of the benefits of being a temporary member of staff is the word temporaryas at some stage the job could come to an end and that is it, as that is what has been signed up to.
I accept that there are, however, clear downsides to being an agency worker and we want to minimise them as much as possible. That is why we want to ensure that such rights as currently apply are, as I mentioned earlier, properly enforced. Rights for agency and temporary workers are important. The Government told us a few moments ago that they are spending £3 million on informing people of their rights to the minimum wage. Can the Minister tell us today how much money is being spent on informing workers and employers of the rights and obligations that apply to temporary or agency workersthe implications for holidays, redundancy pay and so forth? Clearly, the Government must spend some money on informing such workers of their rightsbut there is silence, so perhaps the Government are not spending much on informing agency and temporary workers of their rights.
Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that many temporary workers may be migrant workers, who may well not be up to speed with the laws and rules governing them? Passing more legislation may make no difference at all. If Labour Members are so concerned about the number of people being exploited by employment agencies as temporary workers, perhaps their Government should have got a better grip on immigration into the country.
We need to consider how many people have settled in the UK from within the European Union. It is important to distinguish between people working legally and illegally. Illegal working can be a cause of concern about bad treatment, when people are
treated badly simply because they are working illegally. I realise that people should not be working here illegally, which is one side of the coin, but on the other side, several millions of people have come to the UK over the past 10 years and they have the right to work and reside here. For some, their knowledge of the English language will not be brilliant and knowledge of their working rights given by successive Governments will not be brilliant either.
Mr. McFadden: The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of informing people, particularly migrant workers, of their rights. I hope that the Conservatives would support the efforts of my Department and British embassies in several European countries to distribute Know before you go material in circumstances where people may be subject to exploitation. Such information tells them of their employment rights; it tells them that if they are here as legal workers they are entitled to the minimum wage and other core employee rights. Enforcement of the minimum wage, which I mentioned earlier, is not the only part of Government publicity and enforcement activity. When migrant workers come here legally, we want them to have access to the same rights as all our workers are entitled to. We make an effort to publicise that not just in the UK, but in the country of origin. It is sometimes before people leave their home country that the worst exploitation arrangements can be entered into.
Mr. Evans: I agree with the Minister and I am grateful for his intervention. Simply because people are migrant workers who have come from another country and have a right to work here, it does not mean that employers have a right to exploit them. I am not certain exactly how the required information about terms and conditions gets out to such people. I suspect that in many cases when people decide to come to the UK to work, they do not visit embassies in post so they would not be able to see the leaflets available there. The Minister makes a good point and I hope that we can get the message out to people that if they are coming to the UK to work, they should pick up the leaflets from the British embassy, read their rights and ensure that they are not exploited when they get here. That applies whether we are talking about the minimum wage or other rules and regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley spoke of his concern that substantial numbers of people here do not have a good command of the English language, so they may well not know their employment rights in this country. We must do more to make sure that people who have not been able to pick up such leaflets in their own countries at least get some schooling on their rights. Just because someone is a migrant, it does not give people the right to exploit them.
I have examined the fears expressed by the IOD and the CBI about what would happen to employment if the Bill were enacted. There is a great fear that jobs will be lost, although we cannot pin down the figureemployers have suggested a figure of 250,000 jobs.
Employers also fear a loss of flexibility, which has helped us compared with some of the countries in the European Union, where there is a lack of flexibility or, indeed, competitiveness. I know that we must compete with countries such as China and India, but we will
clearly not take on their working practices, which would involve going back 100 years or more. When we compete with such countries, we must do so in the most efficient and effective way. We must maintain the highest standards for people in industry on health and safety and personal rights.
We have to operate within the European Union. I am not sure exactly where we are as far as the European Union is concerned on this issue, and I do not know whether the Bill will be superseded by something dreamt up in Brussels. When France takes over the presidency of the European Union, Sarkozy, who is everywhere, will be super-active. He will want to make his mark in those six months, and employment rights may be an area that he examines.
I would not normally look to France and say, Look at its super-efficient industry. For a start, it is regularly on strike, which is just one of its bugbears. One reason why Sarkozy was elected was to make its industry more efficient and effective. People voted for the difficult option; they could have elected Ségolène Royal, in which case everything would have carried on as before with France regularly grinding to a halt. People decided to go with Sarkozy in the full knowledge that he would introduce legislation that would impact on industry. France is going in the opposite direction to make its industry more competitive and flexible, because it knows that that is what it needs to do. In the meantime, we will go in a completely different directionbasically, we will export our jobs to France, which is the last thing that we want to do.
Many jobs are based in the UK because people think that the environment is competitive. If we were to introduce this legislation, and if France were to become more competitive, we would run the risk of exporting those jobs to France or another European Union country, in which case we would be the loser. Perhaps that is where the CBI has obtained its 250,000 figure.
Mr. Chope: Will my hon. Friend accept that if we had not opted back into the social chapter, we would not face that problem, because we would be able to decide on the legislation that best suits us in this country?
Mr. Evans: I totally agree with my hon. Friendthe EU should butt out. It should be up to each individual nation state to decide its own employment laws. I vote for my Governmentnot this particular Government, I hasten to addand at least I can get rid of my Government. How can we get rid of European bureaucracy, which imposes a lot of uncompetitive nonsense on us?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about competitiveness. Is he aware that the largest group of employers who use agency workers in this country are involved in manufacturing and production? The Labour party is always banging on about helping manufacturingfor example, the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) is present, and he is a great advocate for manufacturing industry in this country. It is shedding crocodile tears to worry about manufacturing closing down in this country, when this Bill is one of things that is putting manufacturing at risk.
Mr. Evans: That is not an intended consequence of the Bill. I accept that the intention is to provide temporary and agency workers with some of the same rights as permanent workers, although, as I have said, there is a great deal of confusion about whether they already have those rights. Manufacturing is clearly on the ropes in this country, and adding further burdens would mean even more jobs being lost.
Finally, the Government have mentioned the commission, but I am not sure how well established it is. On the radio this morning, the commission was described as another way of kicking the matter into the long grass.
Mr. Evans: I am not sure who will be on the commission, but I assume that it will include people from employer organisations such as the CBI and the IOD and representatives from the trade unions. A number of organisations represent smaller businesses, and I ask the Minister to ensure that someone from one of them sits on the commission. Companies such as Ford or Honda employ thousands of people, and big business will be represented on the commission, but what about employers who have only two or three employees? Smaller businesses will see things in a completely different light, because they do not have a human resources department to advise themthey may or may not have an accountant. People who run smaller businesses pore over the books with a candle burning until gone midnight to try to ensure that they are complying with the ever-changing enforcements that are imposed upon them. It is therefore important that the commission includes an insight from smaller businesses on how regulations might impact on them. Smaller businesses employ agency workers, and we should proceed on the basis of experience.
Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be told the commissions reporting time scale today, because it is highly material to what might happen if the Bill goes into Committee and then comes back here on Report? It would be utter folly and a complete waste of parliamentary time if the Bill were given a Second Reading today only for the Government to block it thereafter because they are waiting for the results from the commission later in the year.
Mr. Evans: If the Bill is silent on several areas, the Minister has been silent on several other areas. One such area is the time scale for when the commission meets, its composition, how often it will meet and when it will publish a report, which I assume that the Government will then look into. It appears that the Government will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. Although they do not want the Bill, as it currently stands, they will allow it to go Upstairs. The display of armed forces by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) indicates that the Bill will be read a Second time, because sufficient hon. Members will be here. A lot of parliamentary time will be used Upstairs on improving the Bill, but the Bill could be junked as soon as the commission reports. That does not seem to be a common-sense way of proceeding.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|