Clause 14

Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 14 October 2008.

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Voluntary workers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This clause, too, deals with voluntary workers, but in a much wider sense. It broadens the scope of expenses that can be reimbursed to voluntary workers without triggering eligibility for the minimum wage. Again, I am sure that members of the Committee will be appreciative of the hugely valuable work done by voluntary workers in all our constituencies. The clause will mean that as well as being able to reimburse expenses incurred in the performance of duties, which has been the situation until now, organisations will be able to reimburse expenses that were incurred to enable the voluntary worker to perform the duties. That will enable expenses such as those for child care and travel to and from voluntary work to be reimbursed should an organisation wish to do that.

We received many representations about the issue from voluntary organisations throughout the country. We do not seek to place barriers in the way of voluntary work. In fact, we want to encourage, foster and promote it, and the clause helps us with that. Voluntary workers are a very special class of workers, both in the legal sense and in a more general sense. They can be employed only by charities, voluntary organisations, associated fundraising bodies or statutory bodies. The exemption for voluntary workers means that they can continue to give their time for free without being eligible for the minimum wage. In turn, it also means that voluntary organisations can continue to benefit from their dedication and pay them appropriate expenses, enabling them to carry out the voluntary work.

We are determined to ensure that voluntary workers are not out of pocket as a result of their good work, but at the same time it is important to ensure that low-paid jobs beneath the minimum wage do not emerge in the voluntary sector under cover of voluntary work. However, neither can we allow spurious expenses to be claimed as benefits. The clause strikes the right balance and minimises those risks.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

On a drafting point, or perhaps something more than that, proposed new subsection (1A)(a) refers clearly to expenses

“incurred in order to enable the worker to perform his duties”, but proposed new subsection (1A)(c) refers to those that “are not accommodation expenses”. That suggests that at no stage would a voluntary worker need overnight accommodation. I do not understand why one contradicts the other.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Is it not the case that if the accommodation is inside the building, the rules are different? I thought that there was a difference between outside and internal accommodation.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That is not quite the difference. The difference is that section 44 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 allows a voluntary organisation to provide accommodation by paying rent directly to a landlord, but it does not pay the rental costs to the voluntary worker.

Reimbursed expenses must have been incurred, or reasonably estimated to have been incurred, so reimbursement is always for an outlay. The expenses must legitimately enable voluntary workers to perform their duties, and they must not be reimbursed for expenses unrelated to their work. Furthermore, those expenses must be reasonably incurred so that the voluntary worker does not benefit from claiming excessive expenses. We will issue guidance to voluntary organisations and volunteers accompanying the changes in the Bill.

We received a significant number of representations on that issue and the clause was amended in the other place along the lines in front of us. I believe that that gives significant reassurance to voluntary organisations and workers that they can receive the appropriate expenses to enable them to carry out their valuable work without getting tied up with the minimum wage.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

We support the clause and have seen significant evidence that voluntary workers have been left out of pocket because of their inability to claim expenses. I would imagine that some likely volunteers have been unable to volunteer because of that. We hope therefore that the clause will encourage more people to volunteer.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

We also support the clause and acknowledge the tremendous work that volunteers do. It never ceases to amaze me just how willing people are to give of their time, and it is right that they should be reimbursed for any expenses that they incur. On the accommodation aspect of the clause, will the Minister explain the difference between someone finding accommodation and then having to get the charity to pay the bill, and paying the bill themselves and then submitting it to the charity? That could present some logistical difficulties.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Accommodation was discussed in another place, too. If an employer or landlord is providing free accommodation in return for the work, the worker would be entitled to the minimum wage. That is the case regardless of whether the worker is employed elsewhere. We took the view that to make provision otherwise would enable employers to provide accommodation in return for work rather than pay the worker a wage. All the way through the Bill, we are trying to strike a balance between appropriately supporting voluntary work and workers without sanctioning a sub-minimum wage and a series of jobs emerging around the voluntary sector. That will apply to child care, travel expenses and accommodation, where the rent is paid directly to a landlord. In the round, we think that that is the right balance to have struck.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.