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Part-Time Work

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will state the number and percentage of the United Kingdom work force currently in part-time work.

In June 1991, the latest date for which information is available, part-time employment in Great Britain was 6,491,000, or 25 per cent. of the work force in employment. Figures for part-time working in Northern Ireland are not available.

I am slightly surprised by the Minister's answer, because, as recently as 16 December, he said in a parliamentary answer that new earnings survey coverage of part-time workers was not comprehensive and, more importantly, that many part-time workers earnings below the income tax threshold were not covered. In view of the Government's admission that they do not know the facts about part-time work, why have they set their face against protection and safeguards for part-time workers? Or are the Government saying that, under economic policy, part-time women workers are expendable?

I have given the hon. Gentleman the figures which exist. He must recognise that no one will thank him for his vendetta against part-time work. Only 6 per cent. of those who engage in part-time work do so because they cannot get full-time jobs. We are interested in promoting part-time work and increasing the number of part-time jobs available, not diminishing it by imposing on such jobs the kind of restrictions that the Labour party is keen to see in place.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many women in Britain welcome part-time work because it fits in with caring for children and the family generally? We need no lessons from the Opposition who make rude comments about part-time jobs, saying that they are not real jobs. Many women think that they are real jobs and want more of them to be available.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. She understands the needs of her constituents. The Labour party would subject part-time workers to national insurance contributions and would burden employers to the extent that they could not afford to employ part-time workers in the way that they now do, which would dry up the supply of part-time work, to no one's advantage.

Cannot the Minister see that there is no reason in logic, probably no reason in law, and certainly no reason in common sense, why part-timers should not have the same protections as full-time workers? Bearing in mind the fact that the vast majority of part-timers in the United Kingdom are women, does not the lack of protection represent obvious indirect discrimination against women workers?

There is absolutely no question of discrimination.As a result of the Government's policies, there has been an unprecedented increase in part-time work, to the great advantage of those who benefit from it. The Labour party's policies would destroy those jobs.

What would be the effect on the number of part-time jobs of introducing a national minimum wage?

As every independent survey has confirmed, there is no doubt that a national statutory minimum wage would destroy countless jobs. A large number of part-time jobs would doubtless be among those which would simply disappear if that disastrous policy were pursued.