Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:16 pm on 23rd March 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 9:16 pm, 23rd March 2015

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to make that point as we seek to understand the reasons for that and find solutions. I will come to that next.

I pay tribute to the employment, enterprise and skills select committee of Liverpool city council and its chair, Councillor Barry Kushner, for undertaking painstaking research that shows the extent of this problem. Their work has revealed that there are currently about 6,500 vacancies in Liverpool, over half of which are agency jobs. The council has identified the Swedish derogation as a major cause of the increase in exploitation. This derogation allows for agencies to employ staff directly and the eventual engager—the employer—to treat workers less fairly than their directly employed workers. Without the derogation, the system would still allow for the use of agency workers, which can still be of real use in various sectors, but the engager would be obliged to give the agency workers the same rates of pay as their permanent staff after a 12-week period in employment. The two local people I met who have been working for years at the same factory, but are paid less than the colleagues they are working alongside, feel like second-class citizens. Reforming this area would make a real difference for them. That is why I am delighted that my hon. Friend the shadow Business Secretary has promised that a Labour Government would end the Swedish derogation for agency regulations—a change that cannot come soon enough.

Other long-term changes need to be made. To tackle the structural problems of a low-pay, low-skilled job market, we need to ensure that entrants to that market have the appropriate skills. As a country, we have failed for far too long in this respect. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has talked about the “forgotten 50%”—the young people who do not get the opportunity to go to university. It is welcome that fewer young people are unemployed, but our youth unemployment rates are still significantly higher than those of countries such as Germany, Austria and Norway that have invested in high-quality technical, vocational and practical education that breaks down the barriers between different sorts of learning.

We need to strengthen devolution within England. That is why the Andrew Adonis review recommended an English devolution Act, a central plank of which would be to devolve powers and funding for skills, and commission 19-plus further education provision based on local decision making. On top of this, city and county authorities should have the power to commission the Work programme in order to get the long-term unemployed back to work. I pay tribute to Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, and to Liverpool city council for the extraordinary work they have done to promote apprenticeship and work opportunities for people of all ages, but particularly young people.