Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:16 pm, 8th November 2012

I rise to speak in support of amendment (b). We have a responsibility to the colleagues we work alongside who provide such an excellent service: the office keepers, the attendants, the security staff, and the catering, retail and cleaning staff. Many are members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, and I chair the PCS parliamentary group.

We need to acknowledge that there is a problem inherent in the proposals. The cuts are now going beyond efficiency savings and will have an impact and reduce services. That will increase pressure on staff, which, if we continue on this course, will eventually lead to a reduction in morale. The message I am stating is: so far, but no further. There is an excellent industrial relations climate in this building. The staff have worked with management and have avoided compulsory redundancies—any redundancies have been on a voluntary basis. If the proposals go any further, I fear that that industrial relations climate will be damaged severely.

There are a number of questions I would like to pose with regard to staffing that are not contained in the report, but we need to look at them in the future. Some have been raised by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend Mr Betts raised the issue of the wages we pay in this building. It would be useful to know how many of our staff, both directly and indirectly employed through contractors, are paid the London living wage. I do not believe that it is morally acceptable for us to pay staff poverty wages, which is what they are if they are below the London living wage. It would be useful if we could have that information. Then the Commission and the various Committees serving it could look at a timetable for achieving the London living wage for all staff we employ, either directly or through contractors, in this building, and that could be reported back to the House.

I am concerned to ensure that our staff have decent working conditions with decent terms of employment. My hon. Friend Mr Winnick raised the issue of sickness and pensions. It would be invaluable if we could have a detailed report back on what sickness pay and access to pensions there is for all staff, whether employed directly or through contractors. I fear that there are some who have no access to full pension entitlements and that there is discrimination particularly between those who are directly employed and those who are employed by a contractor.

I want our staff work in safe and hygienic conditions, whether in work and rest areas. The issue of asbestos has been raised already, but other health and safety issues need to be addressed as well, and Members need to be informed of that. It is important that we commit to ensuring that our staff work suitable and flexible hours so that they can cope with caring and parental responsibilities. The cutbacks and privatisations so far have undermined some of that commitment in the past, so I hope that these cutbacks go no further. The introduction of zero-hours contracts as a result of past privatisations, and now their extension, particularly within the catering sector, is unacceptable. That employers can award contracts with no commitment to minimum hours undermines the security of income for staff employed on that basis. Such contracts should play no role in the employment of staff in the building.

There also have to be sufficient staff numbers in the building to provide the services we need. The business improvement plans might have been worked up by staff and agreed by the unions, but, to be frank, they have been worked up on that basis to avoid market testing. I am concerned that the current reductions are placing an unacceptable burden on existing staff—the attendants, the reception staff team, which will be cut by one third, and some of the security staff and office keepers. Furthermore, there is an equalities issue, because the posts being considered for market testing and some of the cuts are being incurred in areas where there is the highest number of staff from ethnic minority communities. That only increases the problem of a lack of representation from ethnic minority community members within the building.

I will support amendment (b), because it would resist market testing, but I ask Members not to underestimate the sacrifices being made by existing members of staff. Their hours are increasing and their work is more intense. There are fewer members of staff, and they have more duties to cope with. There will come a breaking point, if we pursue this salami-slicing—these cutbacks and privatisations—and it will undermine the morale of our loyal staff who we have all complimented today. At some point, we have to accept that there is a cost to democracy, and instead of arguing out of self-interest, we have to argue for our staff in order to ensure that they are paid well and work in decent conditions. Members of staff serve us well and take pride in their work, and we should take pride in them. We have a responsibility to protect them.