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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 16th October 2013.

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Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 3:14 pm, 16th October 2013

It is a pleasure to follow Ian Lucas, if only to rebut so much of what he says. My constituents in Dover and Deal are understandably concerned about zero-hours contracts. I represent a port. Many in the ports and maritime sectors are, and have been for many years, on zero-hours contracts and have informal working arrangements with their employers. Many of my constituents work in social care and frequently raise their concerns about zero-hours contracts. I have told them that I will raise those issues in the House of Commons so that Ministers and the Government are aware of them.

There is a big difference between the Government and the Opposition. Labour Members have sat around since 1997, 2001 or whenever doing precisely nothing whatever about zero-hours contracts. Now they are in opposition, they suddenly raise the issue. Someone has raised it with them, and a few weeks later they have come to the House to say, “It is right that action is taken where things have gone wrong.” It takes a special cheek for the Opposition to come to the House and say, “We didn’t do anything about it for 13 years, but, right now, we expect immediate action.” That is not the right way to do things. They are politicising what is an important and delicate issue for many of our constituents, which is highly unhelpful.

My constituents have raised serious issues. Not every zero-hours contract is an abuse. Many people work for 30 or 40 hours a week on zero-hours contracts. As the hon. Member for Wrexham said, they have problems getting mortgages and tenancies because they do not have that baseline. I share those concerns and hope that the Government will consider carefully what can be done for people in that position. They have legitimate concerns and action ought to be taken.

Some people are preyed upon by their employers—they are given no hours, or given informal hours, and cannot plan their budgeting from week to week. That is unfair and it is right that the Government are looking at exclusivity. Frankly, those people are self-employed and should be allowed to seek work elsewhere. That would be a fair and just employer-employee relationship. The Government were right to look at that in the review in the summer. It would be right to focus on it in the consultation and to take action on so-called exclusivity clauses.

It is important that we understand our constituents’ concerns. When they come to our surgeries, they tell us that they are worried that if they raise the matter with their employer, they might not have a job by the end of the day. I have had many such cases, which I view with considerable concern. It is right that we work to rebalance the situation. The flipside, as all hon. Members know, is that, for many people, zero-hours contracts have the flexibility that works for their lives. How people live their lives and secure the flexibility they need in their employment is an important consideration.

The Government need to focus on achieving the important flexibility that many people need, but also on ensuring that people are not preyed on and exploited. I am a Conservative MP representing a constituency where there is a lot of deprivation and where many people are not well paid. An important part of the Conservative party is that it believes in protecting people. Yes, enterprise and profit are important, but there is a difference between profit and profiteering. We need to ensure that people who have unequal bargaining power can ensure they have the protection of the law they require to get a fair settlement. That is what the Government need to focus on, which they are doing. I welcome the action that the Secretary of State and the Conservative members of the departmental team are taking.