Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate; this is in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Members should leave the Chamber by the back entrance and remain safe at all times, keeping a distance.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of implementing the Taylor Review of modern working practices.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship once again, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to have secured the debate, and I welcome right hon. and hon. Members here today to discuss the Taylor review and employment rights.
“Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices” was published on
Just seven out of the 53 Taylor review recommendations have been legislated on, even though the Government accepted 51 of the 53. We also have as yet to see the promised but elusive employment Bill. The full subsequent consultations have not had individual responses. Even the initial reaction to the Taylor review at the time was lukewarm. The Trades Union Congress noted that it was
“not the game-changer needed to end insecurity” in work. Unison called the Government’s response to the review “no good”, saying
“it won’t work and it isn’t a plan.”
Perhaps I was being too optimistic in expecting the Government to act on this growing problem. Regardless, this is something that I cannot help but fight for, because I see the real-life consequences of their abject failures.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing such an important debate; he is making a brilliant speech. I know a number of gas workers, airways workers, and workers in warehouses and distribution centres who are suffering from fire and rehire. Some of them have gone through that process and the painful consequences for their families. Is this not just another example of all rhetoric and no delivery?
I thank my hon. Friend, including for his leadership on behalf of his constituents, many of whom suffered from immoral fire-and-rehire practices. Let us not forget that, when my hon. Friend and other Members of this House tried to have that immoral practice banned, the Government blocked that attempt.
In my own constituency of Slough, I have been approached by private hire drivers dismissed without reason, working parents unable to pay their bills and companies underpaying their workers’ agreed wages. That is despite the excellent and enduring work of trade unions—the GMB, Unison, Unite, the Communication Workers Union, the RMT, Transport Salaried Staffs Association, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, ASLEF and others—in fighting for the basic rights of their members to be upheld.
I appreciate that the modus operandi of the Government has historically been to under-deliver for working people, but, as Matthew Taylor noted, workers should be treated like human beings, not cogs in a machine. Work reflects the kind of society we want to live in, how we build our country’s future, what our priorities are, and the value we place on workers’ mental health. In this constantly evolving world, we cannot accept the status quo. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. No doubt the Minister today will hail Government successes on employment and will cite the growing numbers in work, but what we must not lose sight of is the quality of the jobs and not just the mere quantity. That is paramount. Having millions of people in insecure and damaging work is not a success.
Even prior to the pandemic, 4 million workers were in poverty—nearly half in full-time employment, but also in poverty. Will the Minister outline exactly how he plans to address the key issues already identified by the Taylor review?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. The Taylor review was a spectacular failure. We put a lot of store in the Government’s suggestion that it would be a panacea for workers’ rights, but it spectacularly failed. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that since 2017 the Government have shown huge disrespect to the 4 million working people in this country, who still, as my hon. Friend mentioned, live in poverty?
My hon. Friend is right. What was considered by the Government to be a panacea has not transpired. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the unions, the Trades Union Congress and others were not as amenable to what was proposed. Despite that, as I mentioned, 51 of the 53 recommendations were accepted by the Government, so why have so few been legislated for?
The review notes that the
“Government must take steps to ensure that flexibility does not benefit the employer, at the unreasonable expense of the worker, and that flexibility is genuinely a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Under current arrangements, employees often work sometimes double their contracted hours, yet can often be penalised for doing so. There are reports of workers being unable to get mortgages, asked to take holiday time for hours outside of their contracts and having to deal with vastly different weekly payslips.
The Low Pay Commission recommended that the Government ensure that employees have the right to switch to a contract that reflects their normal working hours, so what steps are the Government taking following that? There should be a baseline level of security and predictability for workers, not flexibility that benefits only the employer.
The second issue I want to raise is sick pay. In the UK, we hold the grim record of having the lowest statutory sick pay in Europe. The Government are yet to remove the lower earnings limit from statutory sick pay, and it is still not a basic employment right for all workers, as outlined in the Taylor review. Someone should not have to choose between health and financial hardship, so my question for the Minister is very straightforward: why is that still the case, even after a devastating pandemic?
It is clear that over the past two years the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected some key groups—especially the self-employed, many of whom fell through the gaps of Government support. I will be interested to hear from the shadow Employment Rights Minister, my hon. Friend Justin Madders; I am sure the Labour party would ensure that the self-employed could withdraw their labour due to immediate health and safety risks, would strengthen blacklisting protection and would enable a health and safety representative for those workers, ensuring that they have the same protections as the employed. Does the Minister not share those ambitions? Do the Government not want to empower workers’ entrepreneurial and independent spirit to create their own work?
Another group acutely impacted were those threatened with fire and rehire, including constituents of mine from Slough who worked for the one in 10 companies that used that abhorrent practice during the pandemic. Thousands of loyal workers were sidelined and at the mercy of inadequate working conditions and protections. We need transformational change, as my hon. Friend Andy McDonald outlined in his green paper on employment rights: legally redefining the work relationship; ending the qualifying periods before certain rights are granted; tackling discriminatory working practices; and ensuring the safety and security of jobs.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a fully paid-up member of a number of trade unions. My hon. Friend mentioned fire and rehire. The Government had a great opportunity only weeks ago to support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner regarding fire and rehire. The Government refused to allow that Bill to go forward. What does that say about the Government’s intentions for the rest of the Taylor review?
What that shows us is that the Government are all talk and no action. On umpteen occasions they have extolled their virtues and what they would be doing—“the party of workers”. They are actually acting against the interests of workers through their own actions. Like my hon. Friend, I am a proud trade unionist because it is through collective action that so much can be achieved. Trade unions were promised on numerous occasions that the Government would help workers to get the practice of fire and rehire banned. Despite the private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North, that unfortunately did not transpire.
In conclusion, our ambition as a nation should be simple: every working person in the UK should be able to have a job that is fulfilling, pays fairly and provides adequate benefits. That is a straightforward ask, which would not only benefit millions of working people but is the right thing to do, so why are the Government not doing it?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this really important debate. As he said, it is important because this report was published back in 2017, because we must keep scrutiny strong on progress with employment and because there can be nothing more important to our country at the moment than having a strong economy. The role of workers within that is crucial.
The hon. Gentleman could perhaps forgive me for thinking that the Government have been quite busy since he was elected in 2017. I have the privilege of having been elected a number of years before that. The pandemic and leaving the EU have been quite time-consuming issues. Not only that, but they have changed the very nature of our employment market and economy. It is a strength that we are coming to this afresh, as the economy is recovering very fast from the pandemic, and that we should take a long, hard look at how we can not only bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of work and growth, but also—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene, I am happy to give way.
I am very happy to intervene. I am interested to hear the right hon. Member describe the Government as being “busy”. There is nothing more important than workers’ rights, and to think for one minute that they should somehow be relegated is quite frankly a staggering admission from her. Perhaps she would like to reflect upon it.
I am very glad to have had that intervention because many workers listening to this debate will remember how the Government furloughed many, many thousands of people—not just because it was the right thing to do to protect their jobs, but because it also protected their pay packets. Far from doing nothing, this Government have done more than any other Government in peacetime history to support the workers of this country.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. She said that the Government have done so much more than any other in peacetime history. However, in 2019 the Government promised that after exiting the European Union they would come up with an employment Bill, but they have not yet done so. Does she agree that there were promises about what would happen once we had exited the European Union and that since then we have seen at least three EU directives—one on zero-hours contracts, another on minimum wage and another on platforming workers—while we fall behind? Yes, we have been in a pandemic, but we are not levelling up. In fact, we cannot keep up with what is happening across Europe on workers’ rights.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I share her frustration about not seeing an employment Bill, but given the restrictions that there have been on this place, in terms of debate and people being able to be here, I can sort of understand why. Also, there are the changes that we have seen in the economy, which, as I said, are a result of the pandemic and of leaving the EU.
I can give the Minister the benefit of the doubt as to why the Bill has been delayed, but I want to hear from him today that that delay will not be a moment longer than it has to be; the hon. Member for Slough is right that there are some really important issues that people want to be addressed in an employment Bill. However, before I get dragged down that rabbit-hole, I will gently get back to the topic that we are discussing today, which is, of course, the Taylor review—it is important in itself.
I want to make the context of this debate very clear. When we go back to the documents that the Government produced before the pandemic, it really is quite startling to see what is in them. We have the opening to the Good Work plan, putting forward the consultation on the single enforcement body. The introduction to that document, which of course became available only months or even weeks before we saw a significant lockdown of our economy, referred to the record levels of employment in the UK and wages
“growing at their fastest pace in almost a decade”.
It said that the UK labour market was thriving, which it was. However, we cannot ignore the impact of the pandemic, and we have to put that into the mix today as we consider this really important debate.
The way out of this pandemic is not just about vaccination and boosters, as important as they might be; it is also about getting our economy growing as it was prior to the pandemic, so that we can not only pay for the cost of the pandemic but get back on to the sort of track that the people of this country had become used to under this Government.
The skills of the Great British people are crucial to that economic growth. One of the great successes of this Government has been the ability to bounce back since the pandemic hit its height, but we need to be able to use the skills of the British people to get back once again to the levels of growth that I have referred to.
The Taylor review was all about tackling imperfections in the labour market, which is important not only in its own right but in terms of getting back to those levels of economic growth. Many of the sorts of imperfections that Taylor referred to in his review are, in many ways, being tackled already. I saw that for myself when I visited my local Jobcentre Plus office in Basingstoke. We are not known for high levels of unemployment in Basingstoke, but through the pandemic we saw our unemployment rate double, despite the very significant levels of furloughing that the Government had enabled.
I am delighted to say that as a result of the work of Jobcentre Plus, and the tenacity of the entrepreneurs who live in my constituency, those unemployment levels have halved. The work of organisations such as the M3 Job Club is helping to ensure that people in longer-term unemployment also have opportunities.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I think the Chair wants to make sure I do not use too much time.
Organisations such as the M3 Job Club can ensure that the long-term unemployed get back into work as quickly as possible, again dealing with some of the imperfections in the labour market. Of course, the Government have set up such schemes around apprenticeships, and on Friday I saw a number of apprentices at my local technical college—Basingstoke College of Technology—who are studying apprenticeships in anything from engineering in F1 motorsport to supply chains in the airline industry. It is extraordinary that the college has got back on track as quickly as it has.
So there are already successful plans in place to deal with some of the imperfections we see around training, age discrimination and worklessness, but we need to ensure we work better, and that is what the Taylor review was all about. The review referred to a number of areas of concern, and in the time available today it is impossible to go into all of them. The ones I will highlight, over and above the ones that the hon. Member for Slough referred to, are maternity discrimination and age discrimination.
The Minister will know my long-term interest in issues around maternity discrimination. The Taylor review rightly pointed out that three quarters of mothers have been subject to negative or discriminatory actions in the workplace. On age discrimination, far too many people, particularly over the age of 50, are not in work. Those issues were not tackled in the Taylor review; they need to be tackled in the Government’s response.
Another area that the Taylor review did not tackle was family-related leave and pay. We know that the inability of fathers in the workplace to take parental leave can directly affect the way women can participate at work. Another area that was not referred to was the use of non-disclosure agreements to cover up wrongdoing in the workplace. Will the Minister be tackling those issues in an employment Bill, over and above anything that he wants to tackle from the Taylor review?
Before I close, I want to talk about the single enforcement body, on which the Government issued a consultation back in December 2019. The single enforcement body was at the heart of the Government’s response to the Taylor review. It has an important role in tackling the issues I have just outlined, which were not tackled in the way I feel they should have been in the Taylor review. In his response, will the Minister clarify the status of the single enforcement body? Does it remain at the core of the Government’s response? When will he look at extending the role of the single enforcement body to cover enforcement of the law that already exists, as well as new laws that might be required around NDAs?
I know that the Minister listens well—he has listened to me talk about these issues on many occasions—and I hope he finds this debate useful in refocusing the Government on what I agree with the hon. Members for Slough and for Poplar and Limehouse is an important issue that we need to tackle here and now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi on securing this important debate.
The covid-19 crisis has highlighted the brutal reality of insecure work in the UK and has exposed the systemic failures of the law around worker protections. Far from simply providing flexible jobs with autonomy, the truth is that gig economy employers increasingly trap workers into a dangerous and precarious existence.
Increases in working poverty during the last decade blight our society and reflect the fact that insecure work damages people, their families and their communities. The rise in workplace precarity, zero hours contracts, bogus self employment and contracting out puts workers at risk, and is a threat to our existing health and safety laws and to achieving equal rights at work. In particular, casework in my constituency has emphasised that black, Asian and minority ethnic workers and women workers continue to face a disproportionate burden, working in insecure jobs with fewer rights at work and ongoing pay gaps. However, care workers, drivers and shop workers played a crucial role in keeping society going during the pandemic, and continue to do so.
The principle that everyone has equal rights at work that are guaranteed by law is of fundamental importance to any just society, but, more than that, a thriving and truly democratic economy cannot be created without the full involvement and empowerment of its workforce. The UK Supreme Court’s dismissal of Uber’s appeal against the landmark employment tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers, with access to the minimum wage and paid holidays, was a significant step forward, and I hope the Minister will address the importance of that ruling in his remarks. However, it is disappointing that Taylor’s proposals maintain the present multiple categories for defining workers, with different rights attaching to each, though renaming some of them. I hope the Minister will also address this point, with which I will close: would it not be better to create a single status of worker for all but the genuinely self-employed, as captured by Lord Hendy’s Status of Workers Bill?
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and I thank my good and hon. Friend Mr Dhesi for having secured this important debate. I also draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The employment landscape has been fundamentally transformed since I first left school aged 15. The shipyards, factories and foundries that once dominated our skyline are all but gone, and today we inhabit a world dominated by Amazon warehouses and artificial intelligence. Gone, too, is the right to well-paid, secure and dignified employment that my generation took for granted. So I welcome the Taylor review’s recognition of the need to reform existing working practices. I am also glad to see it call for equal pay for agency staff and sick leave for low-paid workers, which I have no doubt would be warmly welcomed by the over a quarter of a million workers who were forced to self-isolate with inadequate sick pay, or even no sick pay, this December.
But I am afraid that the scale of the challenge before us has not been fully grasped. At a time when millions of people are trapped in a vicious cycle of zero-hours contracts and poverty pay, bold and transformative change is needed: tinkering around the edges simply will not cut it. As a veteran of the labour movement, I know that there is no more powerful vehicle for improving the lives of working people than the unions. Time and time again, research has found that workers in countries with higher trade union density are better paid, happier and more secure in the workplace, but this report fails to afford trade unions the vital role that they must play in building a Britain that works for all. There is no acknowledgment of how reinstating sectoral collective bargaining would help to drive up wages and improve the quality of work. There is no recognition of how trade unions can facilitate the negotiation of fairer working conditions, including a right to flexible working. There is also not a single mention of the urgent need to repeal the draconian Trade Union Act 2016, which has done so much to curtail the ability of unions to stand up for their members.
There are other issues that need addressing. In response to the plague of bogus self-employment, the Taylor review offers a number of solutions, but none goes far enough in guaranteeing workers the security they deserve. As such, I urge the Minister to adopt the Labour party’s call to abolish the three-tier system altogether and introduce a single, universal employment status that would grant every worker in the country fundamental rights from day one.
Similarly, when it comes to enforcing employment rights, this report falls short of recommending the establishment of an independent labour organisation with the statutory power to stand up to bad bosses and enforce employment rights and collective agreements, as called for in the Institute of Employment Rights manifesto for labour law. At a time when covid has highlighted the gross inadequacy of the UK’s rate of statutory sick pay, I am afraid that the recommendation for SSP to be accrued based on length of service risks leaving new starters out in the cold if they fall ill.
I understand that the Government plan to adopt the Taylor review as the basis of their future reform of employment law. I look forward to the Minister telling us about those plans in more detail. Any measures, however limited, that give workers greater protections in the workplace ought to be welcomed, but after all that UK workers have gone through to get us through to covid, surely they deserve better. The Government must go further, be bolder and deliver more for the millions of working people struggling to get by in our country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this important debate.
As we have heard, the Taylor review of working practices was published in 2017 but the Government have not implemented its many valuable recommendations. I will focus on the recommendation that workers on zero-hours contracts who have been in post for 12 months or more should have the right to request a contract that better reflects the hours they work. Despite the Government’s commitment in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech to use the then forthcoming employment Bill to introduce a right to request a more stable contract, they have taken no action to protect people on zero-hours contracts.
The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics confirms that 1 million UK workers are on zero-hours contracts, which is higher than pre-pandemic levels. Workers on zero-hours contracts are regularly underemployed, often have to work more than one job and are likely to be constantly searching for new work. That is bad for people’s financial security and general wellbeing, as too many are forced to live from pay cheque to pay cheque.
It is no coincidence that the rise in employers exploiting the status of workers has occurred alongside the assault on trade unions. Forty years ago, eight out of 10 workers enjoyed terms and conditions negotiated by a trade union. Today, fewer than one in four workers has that benefit.
According to a joint report from the Trades Union Congress and the equality organisation Race on the Agenda, women of colour are almost twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men, and almost one and a half times as likely to be on them as white women. Far from providing greater flexibility, zero-hours contracts are trapping women from African, African-Caribbean, Asian and other racialised groups in low pay and insecure work, leaving them struggling to pay bills and plan their lives. That is what institutional racism in the workplace looks like. Indeed, the only flexibility that zero-hours contracts provide is for the employer, who is granted total arbitrary control over their workers’ hours. That instability means that many people’s incomes are subject to the whims of managers, which makes it hard for workers to plan their lives.
Recent polling data showed that 40% of African, African-Caribbean, Asian and other racialised groups on insecure contracts said they face the threat of losing their shifts if they turn down work, compared with 25% of insecure white workers. The data also showed that racialised groups in insecure work have been allocated a shift at less than a day’s notice, and almost half have had shifts cancelled with less than a day’s notice.
That mistreatment is especially evident in sections of Leicester’s garment industry, in which wage exploitation has been endemic for more than a decade. One of the most frequently recurring issues in my city’s garment industry is the routine under-reporting of hours by the unscrupulous bosses of sweatshops. Some companies also defraud their workers of holiday leave through a bogus probationary period that prevents them from being paid any leave for a year or longer. Many appalling garment industry contracts prohibit workers from unionising; require eight weeks’ notice while giving workers only two days’ notice for termination of employment; offer insulting overtime pay of 10p, poor sick pay and no recourse against inadequate and dangerous working conditions; and mandate that workers opt out of the Working Time Regulations 1998, which limit weeks to 40 hours.
Too many workers in Leicester’s garment industry, regardless of their length of service, are on zero-hours contracts, and get paid only when they work, even if the reason they are not able to work is outside their control. For instance, if the factory is not able to open because of an electric fault, the worker is often told at short notice that they are not needed that day and thus does not get paid. No matter how zero-hours contracts are dressed up, they are simply a return to Victorian employment practices, where unneeded workers would trudge home from the factory gates empty-handed after not even being selected for a shift.
The Government must implement the recommendations of the Taylor review and go further by banning the use of zero-hours contracts, as many countries in Europe already do. They must crack down on toxic casualisation through a single legal status of “worker” for everyone who works, except of course for those who are genuinely self-employed. Zero-hours contracts must be eradicated, and hours should be regulated so that each worker gets guaranteed pay for a working week.
Beyond that, the full recommendations of the Taylor review must be implemented. Trade union rights must be reinstated and extended. We must ensure that every job is a good job, providing security, dignity and a fair wage.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi for securing this debate. I, too, declare my interest as a private member of Unite the union. I note that Government Members on the Benches opposite are rather sparse—I do not know whether that betrays their attitude towards this issue or whether they are busy writing letters or taking part in Operation Big Dog Whistle.
As we all know very well, coronavirus has reshaped the landscape of the world of work quite considerably. While a number of the Taylor review’s recommendations are still very relevant, such as taking a more proactive approach to workplace health, others do not address the situation we find ourselves in today—for example, the suggestion that national regulation is not the route to achieve better work.
As we have endured the greatest health crisis in a century it has become clear that the strong role of Government is critical to creating good work, whether through tighter regulation of workplace health and safety or proper enforcement of workplace rights. If we are to learn anything from this pandemic, we must ensure that Government intervention to keep workers safe and free from exploitation is not seen as unnecessary red tape.
Last year I had the privilege of chairing a taskforce with the Labour party’s affiliate trade unions to produce a report of our own. That in turn led to our Green Paper on employment rights—which, in the best traditions of the Labour party, is red—setting out our plan for a new deal for working people, which would build on the good recommendations in the Taylor review. Our taskforce looked at how we could learn lessons from the pandemic and set out a raft of employment rights policies, from establishing fair pay agreements and reinstituting sectoral collective bargaining, to ending bogus self-employment and bringing in day one rights for all workers. That provided a vision of what truly good work could look like after the devastation of covid and more than a decade of failed Tory ideology.
The laissez-faire approach taken by the Government to the protection of workers during the pandemic, but also the years leading up to it, has shown itself to be fundamentally flawed. At each step of their handling of the crisis, Ministers have been too slow to act, particularly in their failures to protect workplace health and safety. The fact that the position of director of labour market enforcement was vacant for 10 months after Matthew Taylor stepped down last year, and that we are still to see an employment Bill more than two years after one was first promised, speaks volumes about how little the Government prioritise good work.
The failures over recent years have been compounded by the pre-pandemic austerity cuts that the Tories inflicted on our public bodies. For example, the Health and Safety Executive has been left with half the budget and two thirds the number of inspectors that it enjoyed under the last Labour Government. The £14 million in emergency funds that the HSE received at the beginning of the pandemic goes only a short distance towards making up for the more than £100 million in lost funding that it has endured over the past decade, and it still lacks the resources to fulfil its statutory role. Having been so stripped back after years of austerity, few prosecutions are ever brought, leaving workers at risk of unsafe conditions. Last year, only 185 convictions were secured—a drop of almost two thirds compared with 2016-17.
In Labour’s “Employment Rights Green Paper”, we set out the importance of giving the HSE the full funding that it needs to protect workers properly. Our new deal would also introduce an effective single enforcement body to bring health and safety prosecutions and civil proceedings on workers’ behalf and to end the underpayment of the national minimum wage, along with other exploitation and discriminatory practices.
Soon after the introduction of the first lockdown, in April 2020, an astounding 1.6 million workers were being paid less than the national minimum wage, according to the Low Pay Commission. The Taylor review was right to stress that a top concern of workers is the issue of unpaid wages. However, only through national regulation of workplaces and a single enforcement body can that be achieved. With only 18 employment agency standards inspectors responsible for inspecting 40,000 employment agencies, it is no wonder that the situation is so terrible.
Our new deal for working people differs from the Taylor review in one major respect, and that is on the issue of creating a single status of worker for all but the genuinely self-employed. Our policy is captured in Lord Hendy’s brilliant Status of Workers Bill, which awaits a final formal Third Reading in the other place, after which it will come to us. Rather than following Matthew Taylor’s proposal to maintain the present multiple categories, with different rights attaching to each, our plan to create the single status, with all workers gaining full rights from day one of employment, would have life-changing effects for so many.
For example, security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital had to threaten industrial action to pursue their basic rights to sick pay, enhanced maternity leave and annual entitlement. More than 30 security guards at the hospital are all outsourced to Carlisle Support Services, owned by billionaire Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, and are denied the same rights as their co-workers who are employed directly by the NHS. Under the plans in our green paper, those key workers would not have their rights withheld at the whim of heartless and exploitative employers such as Lord Ashcroft.
We need to see a new deal for working people, one that speaks to their economic and social rights and that reinstitutes sectoral collective bargaining to bring about secure employment with fair pay agreements for all workers from day one of their employment. We simply have to make the change and to secure a better settlement and a better future.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Mrs Cummings. I commend all those who spoke beforehand for their excellent contributions. It is good to participate. In particular, I thank Mr Dhesi for setting the scene so well. We spoke the other day, in advance of the debate, and I am more than pleased to come along to add a supportive contribution to what the hon. Gentleman said.
We are pleased to see the shadow Minister, Justin Madders, in his place and in particular the Minister in his. Honestly, the Minister is one who understands the issues well. I believe he will be able to respond to our concerns and perhaps give us the encouragement that we wish for. That is in advance of what he will say of course, but my interaction with him over the years certainly leads me to believe that to be the case. I very much look forward to his response.
In modern times, when employment is not secure owing to the pandemic and other factors, it is crucial for consideration to be given to modern employment. Every right hon. and hon. Member has referred to that in the debate. I therefore welcomed the guidelines of the Government under Mrs May, back in 2016, for introducing the Taylor review of modern employment practices. The principles that were clear in 2016 are every bit as clear to us in this Chamber today, to everyone who has participated.
Statistics have shown that as of 2016 there were approximately 907,000 people on zero-hours contracts, a significant rise from the years before. I have some of those young people—and older people—who have come to me to express real concerns about the issue. There were also 3.2 million workers who lacked access to basic pay and employment rights. Other hon. Members have referred to employment rights. Not every employer is a bad employer—that is a fact. Most employers try to do their best. However, the debate today relates to those who have not stepped up to the mark and have not done what they should have done—and to how our Minister and Government can take that forward in a positive way.
In Northern Ireland, specifically, there are 14,000 people on zero-hours contracts, some 1.3% of people in employment. One of the previous contributors referred to fire and rehire, and nobody here today has not heard the angst about that process. Chris Stephens has been very much to the fore of that issue, and I want to put that on record. He and I have had conversations about it; he has probably had conversations with everyone about it over the years.
Workers have no rights to claim unfair dismissal under a zero-hours contract. In 2015, some 54,000 women were forced out of their jobs for being pregnant, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In this day and age, that is absolutely disgraceful. In 2020, it was also revealed that a quarter of minimum-wage workers were underpaid. Those facts are crucial in understanding why the Taylor review of modern working practices is so vitally important and crucial. There needs to be better provisions for workers through Government and the respective trade unions. There are many Members on this side who are trade union activists, and have been in their previous jobs, and I welcome that contribution. It gives a good insight into what is happening.
The Taylor review stated that there was a need to
“organise our national framework around an explicit commitment to good work for all.”
Let us do that. The aim is to tackle exploitative employment practices, increase the clarity in the law and make employees aware of their rights. Our job as MPs in relation to social issues is very clear; people come to us with their complaints. These are the complaints that I am getting in my office, as others are.
Many of the core recommendations of the Taylor review are still to be implemented. Maybe that is what we are looking for from the Minister’s response: the parts of the review that have not been implemented need to be put in place. That is the crux of the debate. Since the Taylor review was published in 2017, some five years have passed, and we have not seen the reality that we hoped would be in place. I look to the Minister to reply accordingly.
The employment Bill, which will bring in many of the points set out in the good work plan, has been announced but not published. The Institute of Employment Rights has undertaken important work in which it combines aspects of the Taylor review and its own policy guidance to create a basis for potential employment Bills, to protect workers and ensure that they have their rights enhanced and protected. The institute’s recommendations include an equality of wage law, a right to a basic contract of employment, the promotion of flexible working, and more sustainable access to holiday pay and maternity pay. It is essential that the correct guidelines are in place to encourage people to work. All too often, people are put off the idea of employment by the horror stories that they hear, unfortunately on a regular basis, of employers not paying the correct wage or of ill-prepared work rules and guidelines.
The Minister must ensure that legislation is brought in efficiently to protect workers’ rights. I would also urge him to undertake discussions with his counterparts in the devolved nations, in particular Northern Ireland, to ensure a UK-wide approach to fair employment, the gig economy, short-term employment and freelance work. As has been said, those workers must also retain the same protections as long-term permanent workers, with similar entitlements and protections. I know that the Minister in charge is always keen to help, as I said at the beginning, and I look forward to the response. I also very much look forward to the contributions of the SNP spokesperson, Kirsty Blackman, and the Labour spokesperson, Justin Madders.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. My hon. Friend Mr Dhesi has secured a really timely debate. I want to try and bring a human context to this, in the short time that I have to speak today. We are talking about human beings in the workplace; we are talking about people who go to work and rely on decent wages and terms and conditions in order to feed their families and support their communities. Everybody deserves the right to have decent working terms and conditions. They deserve the right to go out to work and come home safe, as well. They deserve the right to have decent wages that put food on the table and clothe their kids. We are not asking for anything revolutionary here—we are really not. We are just saying what should happen in a decent society, for heaven’s sake. Anyone would think we were trying to pull the back teeth out of Government with this! Where is the promised employment Bill? With the greatest respect to Mrs Miller, we cannot keep blaming the pandemic as the reason we are not addressing issues in the workplace for people who are suffering greatly.
The hon. Gentleman might reflect on the fact that the furlough scheme will have saved many thousands of jobs. That is a very real support, in a real-time crisis.
We should not try and rewrite history. I recall at the very beginning of the pandemic we had to pull the Government, kicking and screaming, to accept a furlough scheme. It was the TUC and the trade unions that put the pressure on the Government to come up with a decent scheme for furlough. I want to mention the sick pay scheme: it is £96 per week—that is for those who qualify, by the way. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country do not even qualify for £96 per week. For those who do, it is supposed to be fantastic. “You’ve got statutory sick pay. What are you crying about?” If someone lives on their own, what can they get for £96 per week. That needs to be addressed in an employment Bill.
We have a situation, with fire and rehire, where companies are firing individuals unless they accept, on occasion, up to a £10,000 reduction in wages and worse terms and conditions. That has got to be banned, it really has. I say to the Minister that it has to be banned. I give all credit to the zero hours justice campaign for highlighting that at every opportunity. In those zero-hour contracts, we have people sitting there on a Monday morning waiting for a text to say whether they are working that day—that is still happening. If they miss the text, they might not be able to go into work. Here is another statistic: GMB did a survey, prior to the Taylor review, in which 61% of employees went to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on hours.
We have to put this in a more human context. The Taylor review was very weak, but better than nothing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough has said, the Government accepted 51 of the 53 recommendations, but they have only implemented seven of those recommendations to date. That is just not good enough.
My hon. Friend Andy McDonald mentioned a new deal for working people and the employment rights green paper. He has put a lot of work into the green paper—and it is the answer. It actually addresses everything we need it to. I am sure the Minister has read it and taken some great hints from it, but this is what we need to be introducing: fairness in the work place. It mentions raising pay for all, ending in-work poverty, enabling secure and safe working and tackling discrimination and workplace inequalities. We are all in this place to try to help people in our communities. There is not any better way to do that than to increase protection for those in the workplace.
Thank you for chairing the debate today, Mrs Cummins. We hugely appreciate it. I would like to congratulate Mr Dhesi on bringing this debate.
This debate is really important and timely, given that we are five years on from the Taylor review. We need to see progress; there has not been enough. There is no point in commissioning a review if it is just going to be ignored. What is the point in doing all that work and coming up with these excellent recommendations that are going to make a real difference to people’s lives to then put the report on a shelf and do nothing about it? It seems like a bizarre waste of effort for everybody.
The consistent call that we are making is not a high bar. We are asking for an employment Bill. The Conservatives have promised an employment Bill, and we are asking for it. We do not have very high hopes for what a Conservative employment Bill will contain, but once it comes we have the opportunity to amend it and make cases on behalf of our constituents and all those in insecure and low-paid work, so we can try to improve that work. Surely that is what the Taylor review was about. If the Conservatives want to put the views of employers ahead of the views of employees, they should note that employees work better if they are in secure employment. We know that they are more productive and less likely to be stressed.
The Taylor review said:
“Individuals can be paid above the National Living Wage, but if they have no guarantee of work from week to week or even day to day, this not only affects their immediate ability to pay the bills but can have further, long-lasting effects, increasing stress levels and putting a strain on family life.”
If the Conservatives do not step up and bring in an employment Bill, workers are more likely to be off sick. They are more likely to struggle to pay bills. Therefore, presumably, the amount the Government have to shell out on universal credit—which they so resent—will increase. Bringing forward an employment Bill is a win-win situation for the Government.
I want to highlight a few issues—some of which have been mentioned today. The Government brought forward their national living wage. It is a pretendy living wage that does not meet the bar of a real living wage. The Child Poverty Action Group has said that, in 72% of families, with children, struggling to afford food, at least one parent works. That should not happen. The Government keep talking about hard-working families, but what they really mean are people who work and do not get benefits. Actually, there are so many hard-working families and people in low-paid jobs who rely on social security because the jobs are not paying them enough. The jobs are inflexible and insecure, and those people are not getting the hours they need.
The Prime Minister said:
“My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts rather than through taxation of other people put into their pay packets and rather than welfare”.
The Prime Minister somehow thinks that people who are on low wages and zero-hour contracts are not putting in any effort. I think he will find that actually all of those people we have relied on the most during the pandemic—carers, hospital porters and cleaners—are likely to fall below the real living wage, because they are getting the Government’s national living wage, if that. Those folk are incredibly hard-working and are having to rely on universal credit in order to get even the most basic living standards.
So many people on universal credit, whether or not they are in work, are actually living below poverty lines. It is a devastating situation. I get that the Government have had other priorities, such as Brexit and covid, but, as has been said, this is the most important issue. In Scotland, we are doing everything we can to put it first. We had a discussion with the Government about freeports. When freeports were being created in Scotland, the Scottish Government wanted two things: to prioritise green jobs and fair work. The UK Government disagreed and said, “No. You cannot prioritise those two things in freeports. You cannot prioritise tackling climate change and fair work.” As was said, those should be the most important things. This Government have got their priorities all wrong. There is a timing issue, but it is still possible to prioritise workers’ rights, when we have seen our constituents’ savings fall. There has been some increase in savings, but that has been for those people who were already earning plenty of money. There has been a massive hit on the finances of those earning the least.
I want to highlight a couple of other matters. In 2021, the median hourly earnings gap between men and women grew. Something is going wrong if the Government are putting measures in place to fix the gender pay gap and it continues to widen. There needs to be immediate, urgent action to ensure that the gender pay gap does not continue to widen.
We need to see flexible work requests from day one. People who are pregnant, carers or disabled need to be able to make a flexible working request to their employers on day one of their employment. We know that many of those are refused anyway. The employer does not have to concede to the flexible working request, but the person needs the right to make that request, at the barest minimum.
We need the employment Bill and we need the Trade Union Act 2016 to be rolled back. We need a proper real living wage that is not discriminatory on the basis of age. We are doing what we can in Scotland with the fair work action plan. We have had that argument with the Government about freeports. We have a higher level of people paid the real living wage than elsewhere in the UK. That is mostly due to the action we have taken, particularly the requirement that people working in adult social care are paid the real living wage, not the national living wage. We have taken a lot of action in that space.
The Government are refusing to bring forward the employment Bill. It would be great if the Minister could tell us when it is coming. In the absence of that, devolve employment rights and workers’ rights. We will do a much better job of it than the UK Government. We will do it properly. We will ensure that we put workers at the heart of the decisions that we take on employees’ rights. We are showing that within the limited powers that we have. Imagine how much more we could do if we devolved those rights.
If the Minister is unwilling to concede that devolving those powers would ensure that the Scottish Government could provide a better service for the Scottish people than the UK Government, then he is strengthening the case, once again, for independence. He is strengthening the case for the people of Scotland to vote for independence, because they do not want to see that gender pay gap widen; they do not want to see insecure employment continue; they do not want to see the age discriminatory national living wage; and they do not want a Prime Minister suggesting that they are not working hard enough, which is why their wages are not growing. Independence is the way for us to solve that, because the Conservatives continue to refuse to take action that will make a real difference to our constituents.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Mrs Cummins. I start by referring to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding trade union membership. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi for securing today’s debate and for his brilliant introduction. He quoted the TUC saying that Taylor was not the game changer it wanted, and we certainly agree with that. It goes nowhere near enough to tackle the workplace injustices that we have talked about today, but at least it was a step in the right direction. For it to be left on the shelf is simply not good enough.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the quality of work is as important as the quantity. That we have millions of people trapped in low-paid and insecure work, living in poverty, is not something the Government should be proud of. He was also right to raise the scandal of SSP being at one of the lowest levels in Europe. People should not be forced to choose between going in to work and financial hardship as a result of health conditions. He said that work should be fulfilling, paid fairly and with adequate benefits. Those are all things that we would like to see in any Bill or Green Paper that comes forward from the Government.
We also heard from my hon. Friend Apsana Begum. She made the important point that black, Asian and minority ethnic workers are often in these insecure jobs. Has the Minister undertaken any assessments of the impact of gig-economy working on those groups?
My hon. Friend Mick Whitley spoke very well. He knows more about this than most. I completely agree with him that trade union membership has been shown, time and again, to improve pay and working conditions. I know many of my constituents still benefit from good pay and working conditions as a result of his work as a trade union leader.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Andy McDonald for the fantastic work he has done on our Green Paper. It is a real pleasure to be able to take over a brief and have such a great set of policies already in place. He was right to mention the single status of workers as being a key part of that. That will transform the lives of millions of people. If the Minister wants to work with us to try to get that on the statute book as soon as possible, we are more than willing to discuss that because it is a game changer, far more than anything in the Taylor review.
My hon. Friend was right when he said that the pandemic shows the Government’s central role in improving workplace conditions. He was also right to mention the cuts to the Health and Safety Executive over the past decade, during austerity, and how the conviction rate for workplace infractions has gone down by 66%. Workplaces have certainly not become 66% safer in the last five years, so that shows where this Government’s priorities lie.
We also heard from my hon. Friend Ian Lavery, who again knows more about this than many. He made an important point about the human side of this, and the dehumanising experience of people waiting for a text in the morning to know whether they are actually going to be in work, get paid and be able to put food on the table. Imagine how anxious people must be living with that uncertainty every single day, because of that working arrangement.
I want to pick up on what Mrs Miller said. I thank her for being the one Conservative Back Bencher here today. She obviously has an interest in this area, and we welcome that. She was right to say that the pandemic has preoccupied much of the Government’s time, which might be a reason why we have not had legislation. However, in the last two years 64 Acts of Parliament have been put on the statute book, as well as over 2,300 statutory instruments, so it is a question of priority. I agree with her that workplace discrimination, which was not covered by the Taylor review, needs an awful lot more attention.
As various Members mentioned, the 2019 Queen’s Speech had the promise of an employment Bill, which we would have expected to deal with many of the remaining recommendations in the Taylor review. As has been mentioned several times, there was no such promise in the 2021 Queen’s Speech. Does that represent a downgrading of the Government’s commitment to tackle the issue? Why go to all the trouble of commissioning the review and then not doing anything about it? Surely, a Government committed to improving rights at work want to do that at the earliest opportunity.
Sadly, this is yet more evidence, if we needed it, that improving workers’ rights has never been, and will never be, a priority for a Conservative Government. The rise of the gig economy has been one of hallmarks of the era of austerity. At the heart of the Government response has been a false understanding that there must always be a trade-off between security and flexibility. Many self-employed people enjoy that flexibility, although those who proclaim the virtue of the arrangement are often directly employed themselves, usually at a senior level.
For many, flexibility comes at the cost of security. It cannot be right that in 2022 people are worried about the consequences of falling ill and whether they should go into work if they are unwell. The truth is that the Government have allowed the exploitative work model to grow unchecked. The Government’s own data demonstrates the scale of the problem.
Claudia Webbe spoke about zero-hours contracts. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that approximately one million workers are on zero-hours contracts. It also revealed that workers feel underemployed, often have to work more than one job and are constantly searching for new work, with over a third of zero-hours workers having been in their current jobs for less than 12 months. The cycle of perpetual insecurity is bad not only for workers, but for the wider economy.
Let us consider what the Government’ s former employment tsar, Matthew Taylor, said about the Government’s progress, which is pretty damning. Last February, nearly a year ago now, he said:
“We have seen a gradual but unmistakable deceleration of the government reform agenda in relation to good work. There was an initial enthusiasm but that has waned, and waned, and waned.”
He said that nearly a year ago, and not a lot has happened since then, so it is hardly a glowing recommendation. Perhaps that is why the Government dragged their feet for nearly a year to appoint a replacement. Can the Minister explain why it took so long to replace him?
What about fire and rehire? How on earth can we still be talking about that now? The fact that the Government blocked the private Member’s Bill on that was an absolute disgrace and sums up a wider attitude to workplace justice. It will need, as it always does, a Labour Government to introduce the real reform that is needed to undo the damage of years of inaction that has allowed exploitative work models to go unchecked. How can people plan for the future if the labour market is so parasitic that it takes everything just to keep their heads above water, and if they are always fearful of what the day will bring because they are just one mishap away from disaster?
“Rights” is not a dirty word. Rights are about individual dignity and respect in the workplace. They bring important social and economic benefits for the whole country, as well as for the individual. They give people a stake in society, knowing that if they do a good job, and if their employer runs the business well, they will be rewarded with a good wage, decent working conditions and job security. Labour’s vision is of a country where everyone has security, prosperity and respect, especially in the workplace.
A Labour Government would tackle the problems that we have talked about through our Green Paper, which explains a fantastic vision of how we would create protection, stability and fairness, and would legally redefine the work relationship by getting rid of qualifying periods before rights kick in. A Labour Government would give all workers equal rights on day one and ban zero-hours contracts so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week with an on-call payment for the hours the employer might want the employee to work.
A Labour Government would create a presumption, as we have heard, that everyone will be a worker unless they are clearly self-employed. We would see an end to the gaming of the system by tech-savvy companies who have exploitation baked into their business models, which have grown and grown. Are the Government content for this scandal to continue? If they are, they should step aside and let a Government in that will actually do something about it.
In conclusion, I hope that when the Minister responds he can tell us whether the Government have any intention of implementing the 40-odd outstanding recommendations from Taylor. Will he also tell us whether we should take the removal of the employment Bill from the Queen’s Speech as an indication that the Government have downgraded the importance of workers’ rights? If he disagrees with that analysis, can he at least give us a date by which he expects all the outstanding recommendations from Taylor to be implemented? We have had enough of the rhetoric. It is time for some action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing today’s important debate.
Despite what we have heard, the UK still has one of the best employment rights records in the world. We have one of the world’s highest minimum wages; it was increased on
I will come to statutory sick pay in a second. We know that sick pay needs to be looked at, and we will look to do so. During the pandemic, rather than concentrating on a consultation on sick pay, we decided to look at welfare benefits to provide extra support. None the less, the hon. Gentleman is right. Sick pay needs to be worked on, and we will continue to do so.
Advances in technology, the emergence of new challenges and a rise in new business models means how, when and where people work is adapting. That is why, in October 2016, the Government commissioned Matthew Taylor to lead the independent review of modern working practices. The review considered a range of topics relating to the labour market of 2016. It played an important role in shaping our understanding of how the labour market worked and how employment legislation could be upgraded to take account of the rise in modern employment models and new forms of work.
As the Minister for Business and Labour Markets, understanding those trends in the economy is key to shaping my priorities for reform to the employment rights framework. Independent reviews such as the Taylor review played an important role in laying the groundwork for our ambitious programme to make the UK the best place to work and grow a business and ensure that the UK labour market continues to thrive in the future.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Slough will agree, the 2017 review was comprehensive and wide-ranging, as we have heard today, although it did not go far enough for some on the Opposition Benches. It included topics covering a broad spectrum of employment law and employment practice, including the enforcement of workers’ rights, labour market flexibility and support for vulnerable workers; looked at ways that we can improve our regulatory framework around employment rights to make sure that the support provided to businesses and workers was keeping pace with changes in the labour market and the economy; and considered the impact of labour market changes, and how best to ensure we can retain flexibility in the future, while equally ensuring workers have access to the rights and protections they deserve.
I am grateful to Matthew Taylor for his work in providing valuable evidence for shaping our ambitious programme to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business.
I will come to what we have done and what we intend to do in just a second. I highlight the words of my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller: quite a lot has happened since. She is right to say that the Government have been busy and that parliamentary time has been precious, but the nature of work itself has significantly changed since that point.
Kirsty Blackman spoke about the right to request flexible working from day one. She is right to focus in on that. It is a key area, not just for the idea of flexible working, but for people who have caring and parental responsibilities and other pressures on their life outside work, so it can have a significant impact on other areas that we want to tackle. We have been able to take the opportunity throughout the pandemic to reflect on the changing nature of work, which will extend beyond the pandemic, as we move towards endemic covid and a sense of normality, and being able to reflect on what flexible working might look like at that stage, rather than what it did look like and what our ambitions were, back in 2016. We want to make sure that we can take the necessary steps for our labour market.
We tend to blame everything on the pandemic. Zero-hours contracts were here before the pandemic. All that has happened is massive exploitation of zero-hours contracts. The Government cannot turn a blind eye and turn round and say, “It’s the pandemic”, because it is not.
Actually, what we are saying about flexible working is not about blaming the pandemic. Work has changed. The hon. Gentleman talks about zero-hours contracts—they have changed somewhat as well. The flexibility of the workforce—the people who have been feeding us, caring for us and moving us around—has really shone a light on that.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is getting intervened on a lot this morning, which shows the level of interest. His comments on how work has changed during the pandemic are interesting. It is true that people have been working from home for years and years—it is just that there has been a lot more of it. What we want from the Minister is a date by which the rest of the recommendations will be implemented.
I will come to that.
Another core part of the Taylor review was to find new ways of opening up the labour market, so that more people can enter it and then remain in work. That is exactly what our vision is: to continue to level up across the country and allow more individuals to participate in work than ever before.
That is why we committed in our manifesto to bring forward new rights for parents of babies who require neonatal care and new rights for carers’ leave for the 5 million people across the UK who provide unpaid care by looking after an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend.
However, as the review itself notes, the themes it covers are complex and the regulatory framework is based on decades of case law. Its recommendations therefore cover a wide range of proposals, from relatively small changes that can be made immediately, such as the key facts page for agency workers, to recognising longer-term strategic shifts in the labour market, for example by establishing the single enforcement body. We have always made it clear that it is important to consult as widely as possible and to take time to consider how best to achieve the change that works for everyone in the labour market, including employers. But clearly we want employees to be in good work; that is at the heart of that process.
We have consulted on a number of proposals for reform and on themes raised in the review. Wherever possible, we have worked closely with stakeholders so that they have an opportunity to share their views. I am proud to say that we have continued to take decisive action since the publication of the review, in order to implement many important changes to the labour market.
Our record speaks for itself. We have closed the loophole whereby agency workers were employed on cheaper rates than permanent workers. We have quadrupled the maximum fine for employers who treat their workers badly. We gave all workers the right to receive a statement of their rights from day one. We have increased pay for around 2 million workers. We have introduced key information documents to ensure that those seeking temporary work have all the facts that they need up front. We also brought into force Jack’s law, a world-first piece of legislation that provides statutory leave for parents who suffer the devastating loss of a child.
Those actions have made a real difference to the lives of workers up and down this country. We have benefited from expert input from stakeholders, and great consideration was given to ensure that those actions work for employers and workers across all sectors in our economy. Those actions have also given individuals and employers the freedom to agree the terms and conditions that suit them best, while also enabling businesses to respond to changing market conditions.
The results speak for themselves. We have seen high employment rates, reaching a record high of 76.6% in February 2020, and workers enjoying real pay increases month after month. We have seen a wealth of job opportunities, which is a testament to the excellence of UK businesses’ ability to grow, innovate and create jobs. We have also increased participation across groups who had typically been under-represented in the labour market, with women and workers from ethnic minority backgrounds now making up a larger proportion of the workforce than ever before.
However, as I have said already, we need to take stock of how the pandemic has affected businesses and workers up and down the country before continuing to build on that record, because the past two years has seen a level of disruption to the economy that the Taylor review just could not have predicted. However, we have acted decisively to provide an unprecedented package of support to protect people’s livelihoods.
The coronavirus job retention scheme has helped 1.3 million employers across the UK to furlough 11.6 million jobs, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke highlighted, and more than £27 billion has been spent on helping the self-employed through five self-employment income support scheme grants, supporting nearly 3 million self-employed individuals.
I absolutely take the point that we have not been able to protect every business and every job or livelihood. There are certainly people—including some who I have spoken to and heard from, and who I continue to listen to—who have not been able to be supported throughout the pandemic as they would have liked to have been.
However, as I have said, in April last year we again raised the national minimum wage and the national living wage, giving around 2 million people a pay rise. We have also lowered the age threshold for the national living wage to 23, ensuring that even more people have the security of a decent wage, and we plan to reduce it further to 21, in order to tackle the barrier that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North talked about, by 2024 to support younger workers.
We continue to adapt our employment framework to keep pace with the needs of today. We legislated so that parents benefiting from the job retention scheme do not lose out on statutory maternity pay or other forms of parental pay. That has meant that new parents could take time off to spend with their babies without losing out financially just because they had been furloughed.
We have enabled workers to carry over more annual leave during the pandemic and we conducted a review of how victims of domestic abuse can be supported in the workplace, setting out the impact that domestic abuse has on victims, the challenges that it raises for employers, and what best practice to deal with domestic abuse looks like. At every step of the pandemic, the Government’s aim has been to protect jobs and livelihoods and to support workers’ rights.
I will not, just for a second.
As our economic recovery gathers momentum, I am determined to continue with our work to build back better from the pandemic, and to build the high-skilled, high-productive, high-wage economy that will deliver on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work and grow a business. We will do that by continuing to champion a flexible and dynamic labour market while maintaining the UK’s excellent record on workers’ rights.
Future reforms will continue to open up the labour market so that more people can enter and remain in work, and will continue to protect those most in need, including those in low-paid work and the gig economies. Future reforms will take a smarter approach to the enforcement of employment law: we want to make it easier for good businesses to comply with their obligations, while ensuring a level playing field through effective enforcement against those who cut corners and exploit workers. Future reforms will also continue to support the UK’s dynamic labour market by increasing flexibility, creating the conditions for new jobs, and building on our wider record on the national living wage and national minimum wage.
A number of issues have been raised today, which I will address quickly. I have talked about sick pay; we still need to retain flexibility within the economy, so we will not place a blanket ban on zero-hours contracts. However, we have done a lot of work on exclusivity, and will do what we can about the issue of people not having predictable hours. We want to allow people to change to a predictable contract along the way in their employment, when that should be the case. Turning to employment status, we believe that the status that we have at the moment is the right way to go forward. However, we recognise that there are employments outside of that status, and want to make it easier for individuals and businesses to understand what rights and tax obligations apply to them. We are considering options to improve clarity around employment status.
Obviously, the end of this Session is coming up—in a couple of months’ time, I am guessing—and we will see when parliamentary time will allow us to bring forward employment measures to tackle all these issues and more, in a way that will address the Taylor review and the changing flexible work market that continues to develop beyond the pandemic. We must make sure that we continue to make this country the best place to be able to work. I thank the right hon. and hon. Members who have put forward constructive ideas today for how we can continue our record of establishing an employment framework that is fit for purpose and keeps place with the needs of modern workplaces.
I am extremely grateful to the House authorities for allocating time to debate the Taylor review of modern working practices. We know that there are many good employers in our country, but juxtaposed with those are some very unscrupulous individuals and organisations, which is why we need rights in legislation. I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently and passionately about the discrimination faced by many of their constituents in their workplaces, whether that is the gender pay gap or the ethnic pay gap.
However, what is palpable today is that we have heard from the Minister some very warm words, but a lack of detail. There are no dates, as I highlighted at the outset and was evident from other Members’ interventions. The Taylor review—the Government’s own commissioned review—came up with 53 recommendations, 51 of which were accepted by the Government. However, only seven have been legislated for. We were looking to hear from the Minister today, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, when the rest of them would be implemented—when the almost mythical employment Bill would finally come before the House. Sadly, we have heard none of those answers, which will be a great disappointment to many in our country, whether that is the trade union movement or the good working people of our country. I sincerely hope that very soon, on the back of this debate, we will get those answers.
I thank you very much again, Mrs Cummins, and thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their much-needed contributions.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the matter of implementing the Taylor Review of modern working practices.