Part-Time Workers’ Pension Rights

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 26 February 2002.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP 3:15, 26 February 2002

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I tabled an amendment to this motion. Why has the Speaker’s Office rejected that amendment?

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

As I said earlier, it is not for the Speaker’s Office to say why that decision was made.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I beg to move

That this Assembly supports the right of all part-time workers to a pension scheme with employer contributions.

This motion speaks for itself. I am not going to labour the point. In this day and age, part-time workers should not be excluded from pension rights. Research shows that the majority of part-time workers are female. Therefore, there is a double agenda. Discrimination against part-time workers also discriminates against females.

In May 2000, the European Court of Justice ruled that part-time workers should have access to occupational pension schemes. Indeed, it was decided that that access could be backdated to 1976. There was some outcry about the cost to employers.

That aside, the motion speaks for itself. Today, when we are seeing the collapse of pensions — company pensions are increasingly devalued, state pensions are disappearing, personal pensions are the disaster story of the 1990s and stakeholder pensions are going nowhere — the situation is much worse for part-time workers.

As the dynamics of the workplace change, there is an increasing trend for people to work part-time. There are more people opting for part-time work for social and other reasons. Those people have practically no pension rights. Employers are reaping the benefits of having a part-time workforce, but they have no responsibility to contribute to part-time pensions. The result is increasingly catastrophic for part-time workers. Pensions are being devalued as the Assembly stands here and talks. The results of that particular agenda, if it continues, will be disastrous for decades to come.

Society consigns people to the rubbish heap when they retire. Those people have paid taxes and National Insurance contributions. Society is now attempting to consign to the rubbish heap those who work part-time. There is a responsibility towards retired people. British dogma places that responsibility entirely on the individual. Often, however, the individual is not in a position to ensure adequate provision. That ultimately costs the public purse, due to increased ill health among the elderly and added pressure on social services. That is happening increasingly.

Although we can only attempt to deal with the issues of the elderly and those who receive devalued pensions, there is an opportunity to ensure that we put it right for part-time workers — they have a right to a pension fund. The state is steadily withdrawing from making adequate pension provisions. Business has abdicated its responsibilities; it shoulders one of the lowest levels of social costs anywhere in Europe. That has been facilitated by British economic orthodoxy.

The Assembly has a simple choice. Does it let the situation of part-time workers continue to deteriorate, or does it act? It is a simple motion and a well-defined situation. Everyone is aware of the dilemma and the plight of part-time workers. I ask that the Assembly give its assent to the motion. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Esmond Birnie Esmond Birnie UUP

I will start by speaking as Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning. Although the motion is cross-cutting — I understand that the Minister for Social Development will respond to it — insofar as the issue of employment rights arises, the Committee for Employment and Learning and the Committee for Social Development are certainly strongly involved and concerned.

We should all be grateful to Mr John Kelly for raising several important issues. However, there are some problems with the wording of the motion, and I will come to that shortly. That may in part reflect the truly complex nature of pensions. We all probably realised that when we watched the television advertisements produced by the Department for Social Development featuring the two talking sheepdogs in which we were advised of the need for all of us to make adequate pension provision for the future. That future is closer for some Members than for others, but it affects us all.

There are around 150,000 part-time workers in Northern Ireland, representing one in four of the total workforce. As the mover of the motion rightly said, the vast majority of those— around 125,000 — are women, so there are associated equality issues in that regard. I have no doubt that the Employment and Learning Committee fully accepts the equity principle, whereby part-time workers should be treated fairly in relation to comparable full-timers. Indeed — and this is a crucial point — the reverse is true, in that full-timers should not be disadvantaged in relation to part-timers.

The motion appears to call for something that has already been conceded in principle — through the European Court of Justice cases in 1994 and 2000, for example. Furthermore, as Mr Kelly knows from his membership of the Employment and Learning Committee, the part-time work Directive was incorporated into Northern Ireland law in July 2001 through the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001. The Directive established the legally enforceable application of equal treatment of each part-timer with a comparable full-timer. That applies not only to pensions, but to wages, holiday rights, training, and so on.

Although I support some of Mr Kelly’s sentiments, I feel — personally rather than as Chairperson of the Committee — unhappy with the wording of the motion. A literal reading implies a right for all part-timers that not all full-timers currently have. Therefore the motion would replace one possible inequity with a new one.

As I said, the equal treatment principle has been established in Northern Ireland and UK law, following on from EU law. However, a tricky issue arises: how far back should retrospective obligations fall on employers, with all the associated costs? The background research papers mention Ruth Lea of the Institute of Directors, who referred to the impact on companies. If employers are loaded with a retrospective cost that they could not reasonably have been expected to anticipate, there is the danger that one of two undesirable things could happen.

First, the wage levels of existing employees could be reduced because companies have a fixed fund of money from which to meet the wages of the existing workforce and pension payments and contributions. If one goes up, the other will have to go down.

Secondly, companies that are on the edge of remaining competitive could be forced out of operation and jobs could be lost.

Another limiting aspect of the motion is that it may represent an attempt to catch up with a model of pensions that is in decline. The mover of the motion referred to that but perhaps drew a different conclusion to the one that I drew. That point was made recently in the press. In ‘The Economist’ on 16 February, there was a very good survey of the future of pensions across the industrial world. Similarly, the business section of the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ of 19 February referred to some of those issues. In general, so-called final, salary-defined benefit pensions are on the wane. In many ways that is to be regretted, but there are deep economic forces to explain it. I am not clear that any motion made today will necessarily change such trends.

I also argue that although the motion — rightly, within its limits — focuses on the pensions of part- timers, other groups in the labour force, such as agency workers and fixed-term contract workers, have equally legitimate concerns. They are not, however, mentioned in the motion. Perhaps the issue of pensions should be dealt with in the round.

Therefore I cannot support the motion at this point, but I appreciate some of the sentiments behind it.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:00, 26 February 2002

Although many part-time workers enjoy good working conditions, others do not. In the past, pension schemes for part-time workers were rare; it was not considered appropriate to include them. That is now regarded as a gross miscarriage of justice.

The previous Tory Government spearheaded the campaign to deny part-time workers any rights, even the right to pay National Insurance contributions. The full impact of Tory misrule comes to light only now. In the past few days it has been disclosed that the pension rights of millions of part-time workers were torn up and consigned to the bin with the consent and approval of an uncaring Government. Many of those workers are at or near pensionable age and will be totally dependent on the Government for survival and a meagre existence, instead of being comfortably off with a healthy pension.

On 30 June 2000, Dr Seán Farren, then Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, said in his announcement of new rights for part-time workers that

"Part-timers must be valued just as highly as their full-time counterparts. Many employers already do just that; but these Regulations will ensure that part-time workers are given their full rights by all employers, and are protected against unjustified discrimination."

Dr Farren went on to say that part-timers would have rights to the same hourly rate as comparable full-time workers. They would enjoy the same access to occupational pension schemes, as well as the same access to training and the same entitlement to annual leave. Part-timers would also have the same rights to parental and maternity leave pro rata.

That announcement was of fundamental importance, because it set in motion a complete rethink of how part-time workers were to be treated. For the first time, it was acknowledged that part-timers make an enormous contribution to flexibility in the labour market, which enables the economy to function more efficiently. Surely that is in everyone’s interest.

There should be no differentiation in pension rights between part-time and full-time workers. However, as Dr Birnie pointed out, the problem does not only relate to part-timers but to many full-timers.

The disclosure to which I referred earlier is testimony that many people have lost their basic pension rights. Although the Tories are long gone, there is still serious reluctance among employers to recognise that it is in their best interests, and those of their employees, to operate pension schemes that offer workers a reasonable income at the time of their lives when they most need it.

The Government have failed to provide adequate tax relief options to make pension schemes more attractive. They have done nothing to address the problems that small businesses face when considering pension schemes for their employees. Unless they have arranged their own private pension schemes, thousands of people, who often work in the construction industry and are registered as self-employed, are also outside the loop.

The struggle for basic rights for part-time workers has been long and protracted. We need only remember the way in which ancillary staff were treated in our schools. They received neither pension rights nor holiday pay. In a world that is ruled by multinationals that fulfil the needs of their shareholders long before they consider the rights of their employees, there is a long way to go before total equality exists for everyone.

The terms "full-time" and "part-time" no longer distinguish between different groups of workers. Many people with the responsibility of a full-time occupation work few hours. University lecturers, who spend no more than 16 hours in the lecture theatre, would be most displeased if they were described as part-timers, and rightly so. Even the state has it wrong. It insists that people must work for at least 16 hours per week to qualify for family tax credit.

The cost of implementing pension rights for all workers is a factor, and the Government have a critical role to play in that. Not all employers are in a position to carry such a burden, and it is the Government’s responsibility to intervene to sort out those issues. The principle of pension rights for part-time workers should not be an issue. The problem lies in how pension rights for part-time workers are implemented and funded, and it is for Westminster to sort that out. Just as there is inequality among workers, there is inequality among employers. However, that is no excuse for doing nothing.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

My party agrees in principle that all part-time workers should have the same rights as full-time workers and their equivalents. That must be made clear in the debate. Many parts of our society rely on the part-time workforce because of the excellent service that it provides. One need only look at public sector workers such as police officers, nurses, and soldiers in the Royal Irish Regiment, many of whom serve in a part-time capacity. Those people play a crucial part in servicing our society. The motion refers to the rights of all part-time workers, which I assume includes police officers, members of the Royal Irish Regiment, nursing staff and others.

It is important to remember that part-time workers should not be given more rights than their full-time counterparts. It is unfortunate that the wording of the motion creates that level of inequality. Studies of the subject indicate that part-time workers must have a right to a pension scheme with employer contributions. I assume that the Member composed his speech in Irish and it lost something in translation. The translated version of his speech missed a crucial point — employer contributions are voluntary. The motion would, therefore, make it compulsory for employers to give part-time workers something that they are not obliged to give to full-time workers. On that basis, we must recognise that, as the motion would create that inequality, it cannot and should not get the support of the House.

I hope that a motion can be tabled at a later date that will resolve this problem caused by careless wording, and that it will promote the idea that part-time workers should receive the same rights — not more rights or special rights — as their full-time equivalents. The amendment that I tabled with the Speaker’s Office would have made that simple change. Given other Members’ remarks, I think that that amendment would have been approved. I am disappointed with the Speaker’s Office, but that is another matter.

The motion would not achieve what John Kelly said that it would achieve. He said that the motion speaks for itself, but I have shown that that is not the case. The motion differs from the Member’s argument, which is unfortunate.

The motion would place a burden on all employers to provide a contributory pension scheme. That would make employers think twice before they made any jobs available, whether those jobs were for full-time workers or part-time workers. People should consider that carefully. It is worth stating that there is no requirement on employers to run such a pension scheme. However, where a scheme exists, it should be open to all employees, whether they are full-time or part-time. According to European law, that can be contested by employees who think that they are being discriminated against. A good employer will provide a voluntary pension scheme. However, it is wrong for the motion to be approved because it supposes that such a scheme is compulsory, when that is not the case.

It is unfortunate that we cannot amend the motion, because that would allow the House to give full-time workers and their equivalents the support that they deserve. I hope that we will be able to rectify that at a later stage. On that basis, my party opposes the motion.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Our amendment was submitted to correct a motion that was clearly not in order. The amendment should be reconsidered. It is the duty of the Speaker’s Office to ensure that every motion that is tabled falls within the parameters of the law of the House. This motion does not do that.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

As I said earlier, the matter is the Speaker’s decision, and the Speaker does not have to give a reason for accepting or rejecting an amendment.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not asking the Speaker to give a reason. The motion is not in order. The House pays people to ensure that only motions that are in order are tabled. Those people have a duty to do that. The matter should be referred back to the Speaker’s Office. I am not commenting on the Speaker. He may be sleeping, eating or drinking — I hope that he is drinking water. My argument is simply that the motion is not in order.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thought that Dr Paisley was about to suggest that the Speaker might have been participating in line dancing. We know how he likes to huff and puff about such things.

The debate is timely. Recently, not a week has gone by without the media covering a story about pension schemes that are in dire straits. Landmark judgements have been made by the European Court of Justice that suggest that part-time workers who have been excluded from company pension schemes may have been discriminated against. That matter should concern us all.

We have heard about grand plans for pension simplification, and we should make every effort to ensure that pensions are not eradicated.

Many people feel that the state will look after them in their old age, but I am not convinced that that is so. Full-time workers often feel that state pension provision is not adequate. Given that the majority of part-time workers are women, sex discrimination is often used as a basis for pursuing claims, and the needs of the rural community must also be addressed as part-time work is necessary to augment agricultural incomes.

However, the issue for part-time workers is one of simple economics. If a scheme is available, part-time workers often find that the price that they have to pay for the administration of the scheme, and their contribution to it, is far too expensive, given the wages that they earn.

I congratulate my Colleague John Kelly for bringing this motion to the House. He has succeeded in highlighting concerns shared by people from all constituencies and all political backgrounds. I sympathise with the thrust of the motion, and I call on the Minister for Social Development to have the matter investigated. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP 4:15, 26 February 2002

As has been said, the DUP wishes to see equal rights for all — not just for those in part-time work but for those in full-time work. The proposal fails to meet that demand for equal rights. For many years, my Colleagues and party members have lobbied for the right of part-time and full-time workers to a pension scheme with employer contributions, so I am surprised that Mr John Kelly and Sinn Féin are so concerned about people who work for their money, such as those in the part-time Royal Irish Regiment and the part-time Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Not so long ago, we debated the issue of RUC part-time officers’ receiving pensions after their massive contribution to, and sacrifice for, the safety of the Province over 30 years. As I said then, the IRA never differentiated between full-time and part-time police and soldiers when setting those men and women up as targets for its bombs and bullets. In fact, one third of all the RUC officers killed in the troubles were part-time constables, and a great many more part-time constables were maimed and injured by terrorist attacks. The Royal Ulster Constabulary’s and the Royal Irish Regiment’s part-time personnel were denied their rights, and it is a violation of their basic human rights to treat them differently from the rest of the population, especially when they were engaged —

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. You are straying from the subject of the motion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I do not believe that I am. I am referring to their rights as part-time and full-time workers. They were denied their rights, and to treat them differently from the rest of the population also violates their basic human rights, especially given that they were engaged in the most dangerous job in the Province. We have all seen what has happened as a result of that, with the crime waves and other problems in the Province. However, those men and women have worked particularly long and unusual hours, and they deserve a pension on that account alone. They put their lives on the line for us every day. Are Members aware that full-time members of the Police Service do not —

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

This is not a debate on the RUC Reserve. Will the Member please stick to the motion.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Given that the Member who moved the motion spoke completely contrary to what it claimed, surely my Colleague is entitled to some latitude when making his argument.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

That is not a point of order, Mr Paisley. The problem is the degree of latitude that Mr Shannon is expecting from the Chair. Mr Shannon, I ask you please to stick to the motion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

Mr Deputy Speaker, I am quite happy to. I simply want to make Members aware of part-time and full-time rights and of the fact that members of the new Police Service do not receive pension rights until they have worked for nine years. Is that right? We must address part-time and full-time pension rights. That is my party’s goal, and that is why we cannot support the motion at this time. We are all aware of the contribution of part-time workers, not just within the police and the UDR — or the Royal Irish Regiment, as it is now known — but in hospitals and other places.

It is not realised that many who work part-time, and even some full-time workers, have only a state pension on which to fall back. The rights of everyone should be incorporated and protected.

Many receive a state pension of around £70 a week. My constituents and many others inform me that that barely covers fuel bills, let alone food, clothing, and so on. Those who built the country and held society together are being left in their old age to adapt to poverty, and, in some cases, destitution. Some are more deserving of a pension than most, yet it is for an employer to decide whether to provide an employer-contributed pension, and sometimes they object on the grounds that their profits would be cut.

The lack of money available to those who have spent their lives in employment means that many who are in their seventies continue to work, because they have been unable to earn enough money to survive during old age. Pensioners are working when they should be taking it easy, fulfilling ambitions and enjoying hobbies. The motion does not address the fact that pensioners have worked hard for a lifetime. Many full-time employees do not have pension rights. It was announced today that the future is no brighter for our children. The speculation is that our children will be working well into their seventies, as their pension rights might not be protected, even if they are in full-time employment.

Legislation that entitles part-time workers to an employer-contributed pension should apply to full-time employees also. Many in this country cannot save money until they are in their forties, and sometimes they have no time to make any savings. If employers made contributions for all workers, we could eradicate pensioner poverty, move towards a fully sustainable society and eradicate problems such as hospital wards full of pensioners suffering from malnutrition and hypothermia.

We need full, not piecemeal, legislation that will safeguard the future of all workers — all workers deserve pensions and pension rights. It is a crying shame that the Government do not reward those who have worked the hardest and the longest, and those who have carried out the most dangerous jobs in this country, with legislation that will protect their lifestyle well into their latter years.

Photo of Dr Dara O'Hagan Dr Dara O'Hagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion. Just as we do not want a society that promotes a low-wage economy, with few or no rights for workers, we do not want one that does not value people when their working years are over. Society has a responsibility to ensure that workers receive adequate provision during their employment and when they retire. In addition, employers have a responsibility to ensure that full-time and part-time staff receive their full entitlement. Ultimately, employers profit from their workers, so it is only right that employees should receive adequate provision.

Contrary to the belief of some who spoke earlier, who seem to have misread and misunderstood the motion, the proposal is based on the belief that part-time workers are not treated equally — it is an equality issue. It is imperative that we establish a minimum standard of fairness for part-time workers, so that they will not receive less favourable treatment than their full-time colleagues. Women, in particular those from low-income backgrounds, fall into that category — they are disadvantaged from the outset. It is important that we implement the European Directive as quickly as possible and introduce progressive legislation on the matter.

Society encourages flexible working, and there is a range of working patterns that meets the needs of employers and the desire of employees for greater freedom of choice in organising their working lives. During the past 10 years the fastest growth has been in employment that is not based on a standard 35-hour, 37-hour or 40-hour week. Since 1989, the percentage of part-time jobs as a proportion of all jobs has risen from 24% to 29%. We must recognise that different work patterns exist and that there is no justification for treating employees differently simply because of the number of hours worked. We must move as quickly as possible towards progressive, rights-based legislation that provides for that and for the right of part-time workers to make pension contributions. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

The motion is wrong — in fact, it is contrary to EU Directives.

I support the idea that part-time workers deserve the same opportunities as full-time workers. However, I wish to mention an area of employment that has not been mentioned, but which is the fastest growing area of employment arrangements, especially in the west of the Province — the contractual arrangement.

Nowadays many firms do not employ as large a workforce as in the past. Most of the work is contracted out; therefore we find that families — and extended families — organise themselves into groups. Often that is done under the heading of farm diversification. Those people make contractual arrangements with a parent firm to make items of equipment to a standard specification.

It is a growing area. In the west of the Province, many lorry drivers are driving under a contractual arrangement. Many of the large contracting firms are now subcontracting work to people who at one time may have been part of their workforce.

That has created a new area of employment. Some of the work is part-time by nature or perhaps because of the size of a farm or the size of a group. A group will decide how many items it can produce within a certain period. I shall give an example. One of the local firms in my area contracts out the making of parts for washing machines. Group members may choose to produce three parts per week; they can do the work in their own time, and during the hours that suit them. However, it is a contractual arrangement.

I know of other firms that have always operated pension schemes. They have made part-time or full-time work opportunities available to every employee. Some firms have been famously successful in that. I know of one case in which the actuary had to warn all those who were contracted to the firm that contributions had to be reduced because the outcomes were going to exceed the legally allowed amounts in pension schemes.

The motion does not take account of the fastest growing area of employment arrangements because of the change that has occurred during the past 10 to 15 years. People have decided to accept more personal responsibility and more accountability for their own financial arrangements and have opted to go into a contractual agreement with others.

Therefore, many could be classified as part-time workers, but allied with other activities of that household. Unfortunately, the motion fails to take account of the largest group in my constituency — those who are moving into self-contracting arrangements.

I support the proposal mentioned by Mr Paisley Jnr and Jim Shannon. There have been situations in which pension arrangements for part-time workers have been prevented; for example, for those in the Royal Irish Regiment and the UDR.

When I said that I supported the idea that part-time workers should have the same opportunities as full-time workers, it is important that we remember that that change is taking place. What was once known as the popular system of employment in west of the Province is rapidly changing as people take on personal responsibilities and move into their own contractual arrangements, whether that be driving a lorry or manufacturing items. Sometimes a group — up to eight people — would enter into a contractual arrangement. They would go into production either in the farmyards or on the manufacturer’s premises.

Those arrangements have not been recognised and are not being discussed. The Fair Employment Commission seemed to have no interest in that area when the Committee met with it. The area is expanding and is now becoming so large that the Assembly will have to recognise this new employment arrangement. It is almost a halfway house between the self-employed person and the person who is in full-time direct employment. It is good that the Assembly should encourage the old Ulster adage of self-help, self-improvement and being responsible for one’s own finances. Encouraging those opportunities should be part of the debate.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:30, 26 February 2002

I have listened carefully to the various contributions made in this short debate. Some points were relevant to the motion; many were not. Interestingly, proponents of the motion seemed to spend little time on the motion and veered to wider issues, whereas those opposing it actually dealt with the issues. That may reflect that fact that — as several Members pointed out — the motion as drafted does not make much sense.

I shall spell out the position clearly. If an employer provides an occupational pension scheme for his full-time employees, part-time employees doing comparable work must be granted access to the scheme. That is the position. The mover of the motion either failed to understand that position or else his comments simply did not acknowledge it. The only exception can be if the employer can objectively justify the exclusion of part-time workers. If a part-time employee feels that he has been excluded from an occupational pension scheme unfairly, he can seek redress via an industrial tribunal in accordance with the legislation laid down — the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

Let us be clear about the motion. Like other Members, I was perplexed when I read it. Several Members, including Dr Birnie in his capacity as Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning, Mr Paisley Jnr and Mr Shannon, have pointed out that, as drafted, the motion calls for all part-time workers to have access to a pension scheme with employer contributions. That would put part-time employees in a more advantageous position than full-time employees. Where is the equality in that?

I listened to the people behind this motion talking about equality, but as Members have pointed out, there is no requirement on employers to offer full-time employees a pension scheme with employer contributions. If the motion were to be implemented as drafted, it could have serious consequences. For example, it would effectively undermine the whole voluntary nature of occupational pension provision. The increased costs to employers would be a real disincentive to employ part-time workers.

The mover of the motion cannot have given much thought to the way in which it was drafted. Perhaps I am being too generous, but he could not possibly have intended the outcomes that would flow from an implementation of the motion. Perhaps I am being too generous; perhaps inequality is what we want in this area. That is a matter that the mover of the motion, and those who supported him, did not go into in any detail.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Social Development Committee asked for the Minister to investigate the matter. We have investigated it. If she and some of her Colleagues had done the slightest bit of investigation or homework on this issue, they would not have drafted the motion as they did.

Pensions are important to us all. One of our main aims is to ensure that everyone can look forward to a decent income in retirement. The importance of pensions has been vividly illustrated in recent weeks. Members will have seen a great deal of coverage on the subject of pensions in many of the broadsheets and other publications. Occupational pension schemes, whether defined-benefit or defined-contribution, remain a very good option for securing a decent income in retirement.

However, I stress that occupational pension schemes are provided voluntarily. There is no requirement on an employer to provide such a scheme for his employees, be they part-time or full-time. Where an employer has five or more employees, whether full-time or part-time, and he does not have an occupational pension scheme or make prescribed contributions to a personal pension scheme available to his employees, the employer must offer the relevant employees access to a stakeholder pension scheme. There is no requirement that the employer make contributions to the stakeholder scheme. However, the employer must offer access to a designated scheme that his employees can join if they wish.

The existing provision places a statutory obligation on employers who offer a pension scheme to full-time employees to offer access to comparable part-time employees, unless employers can objectively justify their exclusion. That approach is right. There will be agreement in the House on that issue. There is a delicate balancing act between protecting the rights of employees on the one hand and ensuring that we minimise the disincentives to employers offering pension schemes on the other. The existing statutory provision for equal access rights is designed to safeguard part-time employees from unscrupulous employers.

It offers them the right of redress if they think that they have been unfairly excluded from their employer’s pension scheme. It is entirely proper that part-time employees are protected in that way. That is currently on the statute book. It is why most of us who know anything about the issue and have done our homework on it are perplexed at the motion as drafted.

I will pick up on some points that were made during the debate. Dr Birnie mentioned fixed-term workers. I understand that the Department for Employment and Learning is currently reviewing the position of fixed-term workers. One Member spoke about low-paid workers and women workers. The state second pension is designed to offer pension provision to low-paid workers.

Mr Dallat referred to the problems faced by small businesses. A United Kingdom-wide review, led by an independent pensions expert, is examining the simplification of pension law to help to make it easier for employers to run such schemes. Stakeholder pensions offer access to a private pension where the employer does not run such a scheme. Mr Dallat also raised the issue of tax credits. He will know that that is not a matter for the devolved Administration. It is a matter for the Inland Revenue.

Mr Shannon, the Member for Strangford, spoke about the inadequacy of state pensions. However, as Members will be aware, the minimum income guarantee ensures that nobody is solely dependent on a state pension. The pension credit, which will replace the minimum income guarantee from 2003, will be even more generous, and that is as it should be.

Other issues were raised during the debate that had little to do with the motion. The mover and others made sweeping statements about pensions. To say that part-time employees have practically no pension rights is simply untrue, as I and other Members have illustrated. To say that people who have paid taxes and National Insurance contributions are consigned to the rubbish heap when they retire is also untrue. It must be the aim of Government to encourage people to make provision for retirement during their working life. That is why the state second pension was introduced, and that is why we are running the series of press and television advertisements that have been referred to in order that people can make an informed choice. That is why the pension credit is being introduced. The idea that people are not committed to the matter is simply untrue.

The motion as drafted does not accord with the basic legal position. It would put part-time workers in a more advantageous position than full-time workers, and it seems to ignore completely the current statutory provision that guarantees that, where an occupational pension scheme is available, it must also be made available to part-time employees, unless the employer can show good objective reasons why that should not be. If the employer tries to do that, the part-time employee can take legal action.

Therefore, I have no hesitation in recommending that the House reject this ill-informed, badly drafted motion. Those who spoke with a genuine interest in the plight of people approaching retirement will note the utter hypocrisy of Sinn Féin Members in particular. They talk about the need to protect people in their old age, despite the fact that many people are in their graves today as a result of actions carried out by them and their colleagues. Those who died were not allowed to enjoy the fruits of their retirement, with their family or anyone else.

Sinn Féin Members talk about social welfare, pensioners and other issues as if their party has helped people in those situations during the past 30 years. The money that was wasted during its campaign of terror could have contributed towards pensions, health, education and all the rest.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin 4:45, 26 February 2002

The last comments from the Minister effectively sum up the negative attitude — [Interruption].

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

— displayed by the DUP today. They further highlight the DUP’s hypocritical approach to social issues. It is good at mocking, and talking about years of violence, while it washes its hands of its participation in violence over the past 30 years.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

I remind Members to restrict their comments to the motion.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

I notice that you did not ask the previous Member who spoke to stick to comments on the motion.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Your ruling is now being challenged. Are you prepared to deal with this Member as you dealt with Mr McCartney?

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

It is disappointing to listen to the DUP. The motion was an attempt to address a prevailing issue. Perhaps the DUP’s objection to the motion is based on the fact that of the six million part-time workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales, 4·8 million are women. The DUP’s view of women seems to be similar to that of the Taliban. However, I will not labour the point.

I take on board Esmond Birnie’s point that there are anomalies that must be addressed — I have no problem with that. If the DUP wishes to propose a motion, I have no problem with that either. The Minister said that part-time workers ought to have the same rights as full-time workers, but that that depended on an objective analysis. He said that if workers felt that they were being treated unfairly they could go to court. That people should be subjected to such stress in order to get what they are entitled to does not seem — [Interruption].

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

— to be an objective approach. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg had to decide in May 2000 whether the pensions of part-time workers should be backdated to 1976. It is interesting that the case was brought to the European Court by women who had no other recourse and no other means of addressing the injustices of their position as part-time workers. They had to bring the case to court not as part-time workers who had been denied their pension rights, but on the basis that, under European law, the occupational pension scheme had sexually discriminated against them.

I am attempting — indeed, we are attempting — to remove those anomalies from the existing hardships that part-time workers face.

Photo of Mr John Kelly Mr John Kelly Sinn Féin

Therefore despite the huffing and puffing, the muttering and gibbering of those who have created mayhem in their own communities in the past 30 years, I ask the House to support the motion.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It would have been nice if we had been informed that it was a Royal Ulster Constabulary policewoman who did that great job in Europe.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

Dr Paisley, I do not think that that is a point of order. [Interruption]. Order.

Question put and negatived.

Adjourned at 4.51 pm.