It is a pleasure to participate in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I join others in commending my right hon. Friend Mr Smith not only on securing the debate, but on an incredibly powerful opening contribution.
During the conference recess, I carried out a community consultation. I spoke to about 1,800 constituents in 61 meetings over three weeks. The dominant issue that came out of that consultation was low pay and abusive payment practices, particularly from those who told me some fairly horrendous stories about working in the care sector, and particularly about zero-hours contracts and non-payment of travel time. I accept my right hon. Friend’s point that for some people, zero-hours contracts work, but there are too many abusive zero-hours contracts. I thought that I understood the issues: peoples’ uncertainty about what hours they would work from week to week, and the difficulties of navigating the benefit system on low pay. However, people told me stories of getting a phone call on a Sunday night and being told, “Get on the bus. Travel across the city. We have work for you tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock”, only to arrive and be told, “Sorry, there is no work available”, or, “If you would like to hang around till 2 o’clock this afternoon, we might have some work for you.” We really have to address that sort of abusive employment practice.
Another care worker told me of her experience of non-payment for travelling time. She will get one job on one side of the city, a second on the other side, and a third a considerable distance away again. Paid the minimum wage for contact time, she is in effect working eight hours but being paid for four or five—a really abusive practice that we must address.