National Minimum Wage

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 15th October 2014.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Education) (Women and Equalities) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 3:51 pm, 15th October 2014

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Travel times are a genuine issue. If somebody is expected to travel—during the day as part of their work, rather than to and from work—that time should be included for minimum wage calculation purposes. I shall repeat the number for the pay and work rights helpline, which investigates these complaints: 0800 917 2368.

HMRC did a major piece of work on the social care sector and found that of the 224 employers investigated between 2011 and 2013, 104 were not paying the minimum wage properly, and identified £1.2 million of arrears for more than 6,300 workers. So there is a way that people can get what they are due, but we need to look at the wider issues as well, which is why the Department of Health recently consulted on statutory guidance for local authorities to make that crystal clear. The final guidance is expected soon. It is vital that we have proper enforcement, which is why we have increased the enforcement budget by 15% to £9.2 million. The extra money will help to employ extra compliance officers to ensure that complaints can be properly investigated and proactive work undertaken to investigate non-compliance. Indeed, just last year, 22,600 workers were paid back arrears of £4.6 million as a result of HMRC’s work.

The hon. Members for St Albans (Mrs Main) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) mentioned interns. On this point, we already have clear rules: if somebody is expected to turn up and undertake specific tasks, they should be getting the national minimum wage, whether they are in the House of Commons or anywhere else. It is right that somebody highlighted the excellent Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, set up by Hazel Blears, along with my hon. Friend Eric Ollerenshaw. I was involved in making that happen before I became a Minister. It is a good scheme and one that I hope will continue to be successful.

Zero-hours contracts will be discussed in more detail in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, but the Government are taking action, through a code of practice, to ban exclusivity and improve standards for people working on such contracts.

In conclusion, the Government support the national minimum wage setting minimum standards in the labour market and encourage employers to pay more. We do not agree with the Opposition’s flawed prescription on the best way to achieve this, and we do not support the motion, but we will continue to support the national minimum wage and protect the most vulnerable people, making sure that we have more jobs in the economy and lower taxes, so that people can keep the benefit of their hard work.