Rights at Work and in Retirement

Electronic Devices (Madam Speaker's Statement) – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 12th March 1997.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock 5:23 pm, 12th March 1997

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for rights at work, training opportunities and dignity in retirement. I am proud to have the opportunity to move this Bill, which predicates some of the measures that will be introduced, very soon indeed, by the next Labour Government. The ideas that I shall express today are fully within the footprint of Labour's policy and programme, and the measures that my Bill would introduce would tackle the growing inequality in pay and career opportunities, the widespread injustice suffered by people—who are often diligent employees—in their place of work, and the increasing poverty of many retired people.

My Bill would also reaffirm the Government's moral obligation to tackle the great failures of the employment market. An unregulated employment market results in so many of our fellow citizens being denied the right to work, and so many of them who are in work, being denied dignity while they are there.

I make no apology for asserting that the issue is a moral one. Too many of our citizens are denied the opportunity to provide adequately for themselves and their loved ones and dependants. Too many people are not receiving a fair return on their labour, and cannot sell their ideas or their work at a fair price. Many people do not have an opportunity to maximise their skills and talents to benefit themselves and the common good. Unhappily, so many people in work have little or no job satisfaction or job security.

One of the features of the decline in trade union membership among the work force has been increasing numbers of accidents and hazards at work. Decades from now, students of history will look back in bewilderment and amazement at the past 18 years, in which a Conservative Government was indifferent to, and presided over, the shedding of our country's manufacturing base, a growing skills shortage, growing poverty and increasing burdens in social security payments. They will also note that, on 30 occasions, the Government attempted to launder and doctor unemployment figures. My Bill will ensure that unemployment figures are based on fact, not fantasy, and that they cannot be doctored to suit the party political purposes of an embarrassed Employment Minister.

My Bill would charge the Government with a duty to create jobs and to meet the skills shortage. It would require the introduction of training opportunities for all age groups, but particularly, and immediately, for the young unemployed. I am pleased that my hon. Friends, who will form the next Government, are committed to take immediate action to take 250,000 young people off benefits and to put them into work.

My Bill predicates the introduction of a national minimum wage, accepting the European working time directive, and, most importantly, providing people with a right to paid holidays. Although I recognise the need for a flexible labour market, I believe that the market must also match the demand for jobs with skills. Such matching is a matter in which the Government have a duty to intervene.

I want an end to discrimination based on age or disability in employment. Legislation providing inalienable rights against discrimination in employment based on disability or age is long overdue. My Bill would also ensure that there is a right to join a trade union, to organise a trade union and for trade unions to be recognised by employers.

The consequences of passing my Bill would be a war on unfair and arbitrary dismissal; there would be consultation instead of diktats in the workplace; and the callous disregard of workers, treated as if they were chattels, will be halted. One often recurring example of such disregard is people learning from news bulletins that their plant will be closed and their jobs transferred to another part of the UK or to another country. It has to stop. My proposals would place greater emphasis on conflict resolution by giving more power to advisory and conciliation services. Retired people, many of whom are on income support, would benefit from the new "pension entitlement" that is a hallmark of Labour's programme and policy.

The Bill is necessary to address the gross injustices affecting people on the margins of the job market. I represent one of the largest retail sectors in the United Kingdom. Numerous people have temporary or part-time jobs in West Thurrock retail park. All too often, they are on poverty wages. The Bill requires the Government to intervene in order to protect the most vulnerable from pernicious practices such as zero hours contracts, splitting jobs into bite sizes to ensure that workers' earnings are below the national insurance threshold, and the cynical dismissal of workers just before they qualify for employment rights. Something must be done.

Part-time work has increased by 30 per cent. since the last general election. Half the men in temporary employment are in temporary employment because they cannot find permanent work, and 50 per cent. of part-time employees earn less than £4 per hour. Some 800,000 of our fellow citizens earn less than £2.50 an hour and 2.5 million employees have no entitlement to paid holidays, so millions of children are denied the opportunity to enjoy a basic holiday once a year.

Many people—2.5 million women and 1 million men—are paid below the national insurance lower earnings limit, and rely on means-tested benefits. They and their families are vulnerable to long-term social exclusion.

It is time for Labour, but not just in the party political sense. Soon my hon. Friends will occupy the Treasury Bench, but when I say that it is time for labour, I also refer to the millions of people who make up the work force. In my view, the dice has been loaded against them for far too long. It is time for Parliament to take measures to ensure that people have dignity at work, a fair return for their labour, initiative and ideas, and dignity when they retire. Therefore, I seek leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Terry Lewis, Mr. Neil Gerrard, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Mike Gapes, Mr. Ian Davidson, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. Gordon Prentice and Mr. Ronnie Campbell