Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] — Zero-hours Contracts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 16th October 2013.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:07 pm, 16th October 2013

I will not because my constituent’s story needs to be told. He told me not to use his name or the name of his employers because he is scared he will get sacked if I speak publicly. He had been employed for more than three years and was on a contract for 10 hours per week. He normally worked 36 hours per week—he worked those hours regularly, but invariably worked for more than 30 hours. However, because his employers would not give him a contract for more than 10 hours, he could not get a secure tenancy or apply for a mortgage. He had to ring up on Friday evenings to find out what hours he would be working the following week. That was the impact of a zero-hours contract on that individual.

I was pleased at the tone of the Secretary of State’s remarks—he is a reasonable man—but my parents told me that I should always judge people by their actions, not by their words. In government, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories have taken away the means for employees to protect themselves from exploitation. They have doubled the qualification period for people going to employment tribunals and introduced a £1,200 fee for going to a tribunal. That is more than twice the median weekly earnings of individuals in my constituency. That, and not the flannel, tells us all we need to know about the attitude of the Government parties. They are not about fairness for the work force or a balanced relationship; they are about the worst kind of employers exploiting employees.

I was astonished that the Secretary of State referred to our automotive sector in relation to zero-hours contracts. He seemed to suggest that zero-hours contracts in that context were analogous the exploitation of workers who do not have trade union representation. The fact is that contracts are negotiated by trade unions in the automotive and aerospace sectors to introduce flexibility, so that there is a balanced relationship between employer and employee. The key point is that those contracts are negotiated and agreed to—the employees who take them on do so voluntarily, and they are normally negotiated through their unions.

Trade unions are vilified and attacked every week by the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box, but, as the Minister knows, they are an integral part of the Automotive Council and the Aerospace Growth Partnership. The automotive and aerospace industries are two of our most successful industries. That is the model we want—of industry and employers working together with employees.

Employees should have rights. Warm words are all right, and it is all right for the Government to say they sympathise with people who have to manage such arrangements, but if they take away their rights of redress, they can do nothing about their situation.

Let us look at the Government’s actions, not their words. I hope their actions improve, and that their inquiries and investigations lead to concrete progress. To date, they have removed rights from people in vulnerable situations. They should not be proud of that, but it tells my constituents where the Government stand.