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Atypical Workers

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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If she will make a statement on the consultation on employment rights for atypical workers. [123225]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe)

Responses to the consultation are currently being analysed, and the Government hope to publish a response to the consultation later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response and welcome him to his post. Last year, I visited the Department with a large delegation of clergy and ministers of religion who feel that they have no redress against discrimination and unfair dismissal. The delegation included members of the Anglican, United Reform, Greek Orthodox and other faiths. Given the Government's commitment to ending social exclusion, will my hon. Friend end the exclusion of the clerical profession from the employment rights enjoyed by all other professions?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I am well aware of his work in this area. The issues that he raised are sensitive and cause great concern to all involved. The consultation on this matter is progressing. I think that, in the near future, I should meet my hon. Friend and the people whom he represents to talk through the issues in more detail. I too am very concerned about employment rights, on which the Government have a proud record. I should like to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, and wish him well in the fulfilment of his responsibilities. Agency workers are atypical workers, and Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands accounted for 80 per cent. of such staff in the EU. Both the Confederation of British Industry and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development are concerned that the agency workers directive could threaten to destroy up to 160,000 jobs. Will the Minister undertake to press, inside the EU, for a sunset clause in any such directive? That would allow us to look again, in due course, at whether the directive has been damaging or beneficial.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point about the agency workers directive. Clearly, a balance has to be struck. The UK position remains unchanged, in the sense that we want to make sure that agency workers' minimum rights are protected, but also that jobs remain for them to do. There is no immediate reason to believe that the European directive will change matters, but we will monitor the situation and make our opinion known in due course and in light of circumstances in the UK.

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker, even though it is not my birthday and I have not been appointed to anything recently. However, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the most atypical workers in this country—if they can be called workers—are the ones who get paid for failure? I am talking about the directors who reward themselves with hundreds of thousands of pounds even when they produce huge losses instead of profits. Surely it is about time that the Government took some firm action to ensure that such gross rewards for failure are not given out in future.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that he will be in the sunlight again in the near future. He makes a good point. The Government have already acted an unfair rewards and rewards for failure, and we will look again at the matter and try to do more. Clearly, it is difficult to tell low-paid workers to be more productive when others give themselves such large awards—23 per cent. is one figure that I have heard in that connection. It is important that we strike the right balance, and the Government will continue to monitor the situation.