With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the independent review of modern working practices which was led by Matthew Taylor and published earlier today.
The review sets out that British business is successful at creating jobs, enhancing earning power, and improving life chances across the UK. Employment rates are the highest since records began. Unemployment and economic inactivity are at record lows. More people are in work than ever before, and minimum wage rates have never been higher. This is a story of success that this Government will seek to sustain.
The UK economy’s continued success is built on the flexibility of our labour market, which benefits both workers and business. Businesses can create jobs and individuals can find work because our labour market regulation balances the demands of both. Minimum standards set a baseline beyond which there is flexibility to set arrangements to suit all parties. Our dynamic approach responds well to fluctuations in the economic cycle, without the structural weaknesses present in some other countries. It is important that we preserve this success but also enhance it further. While the majority of people employed in the UK are in full-time, permanent employment, globalisation, demographics and especially technology are changing the way in which we work. We need to make sure the British labour market stays strong and everyone in the UK benefits from it.
That is why last year the Prime Minister asked Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, to lead an independent review into employment practices in the modern economy. That review has now been published, and I am delighted to lay a copy in the House Library today. It is a thorough and detailed piece of work for which I am very grateful, not only to Matthew and his panel members but to the numerous businesses, trade unions, organisations and individuals who have provided their views on this very important topic.
The review has a strong, overarching ambition that all work in the UK should be fair and decent, with realistic scope for fulfilment and progression. Matthew has outlined seven principles to meeting that ambition. I urge hon. Members to examine those principles and the rest of the report in detail, since it is an important contribution to a crucial subject.
In summary, those principles are that our national strategy for work should be explicitly directed towards the goal of good work for all; that platform-based working offers welcome opportunities for genuine flexibility, but there should be greater distinction between workers—or, as the review suggests renaming them, “dependent contractors”—and those who are fully self-employed; that there should be additional protections for that group and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly; that the best way to achieve better work is through good corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations; that it is vital that individuals have realistically attainable ways to strengthen their future work prospects; that there should be a more proactive approach to workplace health; and that the national living wage is a powerful tool to raise the financial baseline of low-paid workers, but it needs to be accompanied by sectoral strategies, engaging employers, employees and stakeholders to raise prospects further.
This is an independent review addressed to Government. Although we may not ultimately accept every recommendation in full, I am determined that we consider the report very carefully and we will respond fully by the end of the year.
Matthew Taylor has been clear: the UK labour market is a success—the “British way” works. He has also said, however, that there are instances where it is not working fairly for everyone. For example, he highlights where our legislation needs updating or where flexibility seems to work only one way, to the benefit of the employer. We recognise the points made. We accept that as a country we now need to focus as much on the quality of the working experience, especially for those in lower-paid roles, as on the number of jobs we create, vital though that is.
This Government have made a commitment to upholding workers’ rights. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly, in this House and elsewhere, that as we leave the EU there will be no roll-back of employment protections. The Queen’s Speech also set out that this Government will go further than that and seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace. Today’s publication of the “Good Work” review, and the public consideration of Matthew’s recommendations that will follow, will help to inform the development of our industrial strategy this autumn. I commend this statement to the House.
When the Prime Minister took office last year, she stood on the steps of Downing Street stating that she was on the side of working people. Despite that rhetoric, the Conservatives have been in government for seven years and in that time have done very little for working people. They have presided over a lost decade of productivity growth. They have implemented the pernicious Trade Union Act 2016, which is, frankly, an ideological attack on the trade union movement, curbing its ability to fight for and represent workers’ interests. They have inflicted hardship on public sector workers with a pay cap that was confirmed for yet another year by the Department for Education yesterday. They promised workers on boards, but rowed back scared when powerful interests said that they were not particularly keen on the idea. And they introduced employment tribunal fees, which have made it much harder for workers to enforce their rights.
Today’s publication of the Taylor review was a real opportunity to overhaul the existing employment system in a way that would protect workers in a rapidly changing world of work. But, in the words of the general secretary of Unite, the biggest union in the UK:
“Instead of the serious programme the country urgently needs to ensure that once again work pays in this country…we got a depressing sense that insecurity is the inevitable new norm.”
Indeed, the Minister confirmed that she might not even accept all the proposals in the Taylor report, in any event.
Although the report is positive in sentiment in many areas, it misses many opportunities to clamp down on exploitation in the workplace. I do not have time to cover them all today, but I have specific concerns that the report may allow the Government to interpret references to the so-called dependent contractor in such a way as to allow them to row back on recent court victories for workers such as Uber drivers and those who work for Pimlico Plumbers.
Recent case law has suggested that a worker on a platform should be entitled to the minimum wage as long as the app is switched on and they are ready and willing to accept trips. However, the review suggests that the platform may insist on payment by piece rate, such that only an average driver, working averagely hard, will earn 1.2 times the minimum wage. That raises issues of enforcement and regulation—what constitutes a reasonable piece rate across platforms?—and it is something of a retreat from the common law position. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not undermine workers’ rights on the minimum wage in that way? Founder of Pimlico Plumbers and Conservative donor Charlie Mullins said this morning that the report holds Pimlico Plumbers up as an example of
“best practice in the gig economy.”
This is a company that our judicial system has found to be an example of worst practice.
The report does very little to strengthen the enforcement of workers’ existing rights. Although Taylor agrees with Labour’s position on shifting the burden of proof to employers in determining self-employed status, the report does little else in that area, and it needs much more work. There is, for example, no movement at all on employment tribunal fees, which are a barrier to justice for many workers.
If the Prime Minister wanted ideas on strengthening workers’ rights, she could just have come to us. Just four of our manifesto commitments would go a long way to ending the scourge of exploitation in the gig economy: giving all workers equal rights from day one; strengthening the enforcement of those rights by beefing up and better resourcing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, rather than imposing pernicious cuts, and by allowing trade unions access to every workplace; abolishing employment tribunal fees; and fining employers who breach labour market rights and regulations.
In the spirit of the so-called collaboration that the Prime Minister is so desperately seeking, will the Minister commit today to implementing those four simple measures, as a start? If not, will she accept that the Conservative party is not, and never will be, on the side of working people?
I am glad that the hon. Lady found some positive aspects in the report on which to compliment Matthew Taylor. I appreciate that she will not have had time to read it all yet, but I urge her to do so. It contains many recommendations that will be of benefit to workers and are worthy of the greater consideration that the Government will give them.
I will not comment on each of the recommendations that the hon. Lady raised, because they are Matthew Taylor’s suggestions and, as I have said, they will be given due consideration. She criticised the Government’s record, so I would like to remind her that this Government have introduced the national living wage and presided over the minimum wage reaching its highest rate, in real terms, since its introduction. The wage increases in the last year have been highest among the lowest paid, thanks to the national living wage. We have nearly doubled the budget for the enforcement of the national living wage. We have doubled fines for companies that underpay their employees. We have banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. We have done all that against the backdrop of protecting the growth in employment, which is, at almost 75%, at its highest level since records began.
Our record is one of achievement. The hon. Lady criticises us for enacting the Trade Union Act 2016, but most reasonable people would not criticise the idea that workers who are members of trade unions should have a proper say when their union decides to take strike action. That is the primary purpose of the legislation.
It is not all a garden of roses, otherwise the Prime Minister would not have requested Matthew Taylor to undertake the report. The Prime Minister said, when she announced Matthew Taylor’s investigation, that flexibility and innovation are vital parts of what make our economy strong, but it is essential that those virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers. The Taylor review came to understand that flexibility does work for many people, and it is clear that an agile labour market is good for protecting employment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that productivity is at the heart of boosting wages for lower-paid workers? There are some really good examples of employers, working with the Living Wage Foundation and others, who have managed to boost the pay of lower-skilled workers by focusing on productivity, and that should be at the heart of this issue.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my trade union activity over the 20 years before my election.
Today’s response to the Taylor review from the Government tells us everything we need to know about their frailty and approach to workers’ rights—a weak set of proposals that probably will not be implemented and a set of talking points that leaves the balance of power with employers and big business. It was interesting that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister mentioned or commended the role of the trade unions in securing fair rights at work. Does the Minister agree that a “right to request” is different from a fundamental right enshrined in law? If a request is refused, what enforcement action will the Government take to force employers to do better?
Does the Minister accept that the report makes no distinction between a flexible workforce and the exploitation of that workforce? Does she also agree that while the Taylor report tries to propose new rights, some of those rights have been secured by trade unions taking employers to court, as the shadow Minister suggested? Can the Minister tell us what action the Government will take to enforce minimum wage payments when 200,000 workers in the UK are not paid the minimum wage? Will the Government advertise rights at work services, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and does the Minister agree that it is time for a fair rights at work Act to guarantee fundamental rights at work?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his critique. The “right to request” has been useful and valuable when it comes to requesting flexible employment. In any case, it is a recommendation that Matthew made, but it certainly warrants careful consideration. The hon. Gentleman mentions enforcement, and we are committed to making sure that workers on zero-hours contracts or the minimum wage get paid what they are legally entitled to be paid. That is why we have doubled the resources available to HMRC in the last two years to ensure enforcement of those important laws.
I welcome Matthew Taylor’s report today and commend the Minister for her statement, especially on tackling maternity and pregnancy discrimination, which the report says has doubled in the last decade and needs more action. Will the Minister outline what provisions in the report address the issues raised by the Women and Equalities Committee about workers’ lack of rights to access antenatal care during the working day, which the Minister—in her response to the Committee’s report—indicated would be addressed through the Taylor report?
I commend my right hon. Friend for the work that the Committee, which she chaired, has done to tackle the outrageous discrimination against pregnant women, which has no place in the modern workplace. There are provisions in the Taylor report, but work is ongoing across Government to improve the opportunities for pregnant women in the workplace to ensure that we make history of such discrimination.
As someone who lobbied the Prime Minister with reports on the gig economy to establish such an inquiry, may I thank the Minister for her statement today? May I tease from her a little more about the Government’s position on the trade-off between minimum standards at the vulnerable end of the labour market and flexibility? If the news reports are right, Matthew Taylor goes for flexibility rather than always implementing the national minimum wage. May we have an undertaking from the Government that they will always abide by the national minimum wage, even if that means a loss in flexibility?
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on all the work he did on these matters in chairing the Work and Pensions Committee in the last Parliament. I can assure him that minimum wages rates are sacrosanct. There will be no trade-off when it comes to ensuring that everybody is paid at least the minimum wage. When he reads the report, he will be more encouraged. Many of the people who attended the Taylor review’s evidence sessions said that they liked the flexibility of working atypically and that we should not lose that, but that flexibility should not be a one-way street with individuals absorbing all the risk. Although we will consider the recommendations further, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I very much agree with those sentiments.
Does the Minister welcome the fact that the review established that the majority of employers follow good practice, and agree that our focus should be on those who do not to ensure that we level the playing field for all employers, all employees and all businesses?
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. Employers who choose to break the rules—they are a small minority, but they exist—must expect consequences for their actions. The vast majority of businesses behave properly towards their employees, and they must not find themselves at the wrong end of an uneven playing field.
I declare an interest having done some work with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development during my time outwith the House.
I welcome the Prime Minister saying that there will be no roll-back of workers’ rights, but let me just say that those words are rather a departure from my experience of the Conservative position when I was Liberal Democrat Minister for employment relations in the coalition. I know that the Minister is genuine on this important issue, and it is a thoughtful report of more than 150 pages. As she prepares the Government’s response to the report, will she commit to consulting widely across the House through debates and speaking to the Select Committees on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on Work and Pensions, and on Women and Equalities, to get the right response?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and commend her for her role in the coalition Government. I am glad that she acknowledges that the Government have moved forward in their appreciation of the difficulties faced by certain workers in the areas on which Matthew Taylor has focused. I can give her every assurance that we will indeed consult widely not only with industry, trade unions and members of the public, but across the House.
I welcome the report. At this early stage, can my hon. Friend give any indication as to what enhanced opportunities may be created for people with disabilities who are in the world of work or trying to enter it? They are a very important part of our constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point. The Department for Work and Pensions is undertaking various measures to improve the chances of people with disabilities accessing the workplace, and my Department is giving all the support it can to that inquiry.
Matthew Taylor said today that he wants employers to pay national insurance for people with whom they have a controlling and supervisory relationship. Do the Government plan to implement that aspect of the Taylor review, and can the Minister reassure workers that the Government do not plan to U-turn on their U-turn and increase national insurance for the genuinely self-employed?
I can assure the hon. Lady that, as the First Secretary of State said earlier this week, Parliament has spoken on the issue of national insurance class 4 contributions. That matter is now settled, and will not be revisited. I agree with her that we should pay close attention to ensure that people who are genuinely contracted to provide an ongoing service are given the protections that workers enjoy, and are not falsely labelled as self-employed.
On a similar point, will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a real risk that introducing the term “dependent contractors” will fudge the issue of whether someone is really employed or self-employed? Should we not focus on ensuring that the line is drawn in the right place and that those who engage so-called dependent contractors are paying employers’ national insurance, so that our own tax regime does not distort the market?
We will certainly consult carefully on those points. We will make sure not only that the Treasury is satisfied in respect of tax issues, but that we are satisfied that people are getting their rights if they are employees or workers—or, as Matthew Taylor is proposing to rename them, dependent contractors.
The Minister has welcomed the report. Is she in a position to accept any of its specific recommendations today? Can she tell us when there will be legislation to implement at least something in it, or is this all going to be batted off into the long grass?
As I said earlier, we will look at and consult on every single recommendation, but at this very early stage it is not really for me to say which I am personally inclined to recommend accepting and which I am not. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear with us. Over the next six months—well, I said by the year end; it might be a little longer than six months—we will consult widely across the House, and the right hon. Gentleman will have every opportunity to make his views known.
I spent 45 years in the gig economy, and what I liked about it was that it was very flexible. In order to build a career, I found myself delivering bacon across north London from Smithfield market. I also became a removal man, among many other things. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is welcome that the report supports a flexible labour market, and is not in favour of restricting that flexibility when individuals want it?
I think my hon. Friend has read the summary of Matthew Taylor’s report very carefully because he understands that balance. He does not want us to end the flexibilities that have helped him in his career and close them off for people who are starting out on their careers now. As I have said, however, we must of course ensure that protections are in place.
It is not just my constituents who are part of the gig economy who do not have security. Many of my constituents have jobs in which they work 15 hours a week. They are pleased and proud to be working, but when they want full-time employment they instead see more people in the same organisations being given part-time hours. When will the Government get to grips with that element of the economy, and ensure that all those workers have a fair deal and the chance to work the full-time hours that they want so much?
The whole basis of the report is good work and the aspiration of good work for all, including, I believe, the constituents to whom the hon. Lady refers, but let me reassure her. Two years ago, the Office for National Statistics labour force survey found that nearly 70% of people on zero-hours contracts were content with the hours that they were working. However, that does mean that a third want more hours, which is a finding that we must embrace in the context of some of the changes that Matthew Taylor is recommending to help to achieve the good work and the working hours that the hon. Lady’s constituents want.
My hon. Friend asks me a difficult question. I do believe—Matthew Taylor’s report bears this out—that flexibility benefits employers and employees, but I am afraid that the evidence given to the inquiry suggested that in too many cases that flexibility is a one-way street, as I said earlier. We must deal with the problem of people who are really at risk and whose employment position is far too insecure.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the Government’s upholding of workers’ rights, but as part of the Government’s response to the report, will she consider enabling workers to uphold their own rights? Will she look again at the fees for employment tribunals, which have led to a 70% reduction in cases brought by single claimants, such as those working in the gig economy, against their employers?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, but it is really a matter for the Ministry of Justice. Matthew Taylor has not actually recommended that we get rid of fees for employment tribunals, and I think we should recognise the positive aspect: the upsurge in the number of employment disputes that have been settled through mediation. However, I will continue to look at the issue that the hon. Lady raises.
The report praises and supports flexibility in the labour market, where individuals want it. Does my hon. Friend agree that it may be especially, but not exclusively, beneficial to students and young people?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. The figures suggest that nearly 20% of people on zero-hours contracts are students. Such flexibility also benefits many people who have parenting or caring responsibilities and do not want to work full-time. We certainly do not want to end that flexibility but, as I have said, we do want to improve protection.
The gig economy brings insecure work. Insecure work demands new rights, but those rights will be worthless unless the Government are prepared to put more resources into enforcement, regulation and inspection. Will the Minister commit herself to providing those additional resources when implementing the Taylor review?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman that enforcement is crucial. As I said, we have doubled the resources available to HMRC for enforcing the minimum wage and they will continue to rise throughout this Parliament. We have also strengthened the powers of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and the recently appointed director of labour market enforcement has been tasked with bringing the work of the three major enforcement bodies together to understand the extent of the abuse and to recommend ways of giving those agencies the resources that will enable them to deal with it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased with the outcome, in due course.
I welcome the report and my hon. Friend’s statement. Does she agree that not only is it absolutely right for us to ensure that workers are treated fairly, but it is good for businesses too, because they will have a more engaged and therefore more productive workforce?
I heartily agree. This is all about improving work so that we have good work, with people who are able to grow in their careers, and a system in which those who are low-paid to start with need not be low-paid forever but can aspire to a better future. That will benefit British productivity and, as my hon. Friend suggests, improve the competitiveness of British companies.
Vital protection for all workers is provided by trade union membership and by trade union recognition. Since my time at the TUC more than 40 years ago, trade union membership in Britain has halved, while workers’ and trade union rights have been undermined by Tory legislation. When will the Government reverse that legislation?
If one talks to drivers for Uber or cleaners using platforms such as Hassle, they will largely acknowledge the benefits of flexibility to them. To coin a phrase, would it not be morally unacceptable to misread the 21st-century labour market and construct a set of rules that forced those people out of work, rather than allowing them to stay in it?
Over 1 million workers are being exploited by sham umbrella companies and bogus self-employment. Changes to tax policy are what is needed to tackle that, but the Government prohibited Matthew Taylor from making any firm recommendations on changing tax policy, so how seriously can we take the Minister’s comments today, and when on earth are the Government going to eventually address these tax anomalies?
I assure the hon. Lady that no bar was put in front of Matthew Taylor; he was able to investigate as freely and as fairly as he saw fit. It is up to the Treasury to assess the tax situation and any potential loss of revenue, which of course arises due to bogus self-employment.
To contrast the previous question, will my hon. Friend join me in recognising one of the key findings of the review: thanks to the Government’s tax policies, once tax levels and tax credits are taken into account, average take-home pay for families with at least one member in full-time employment is higher in the UK than in any other G7 country?
I am pleased to hear the Minister promoting this Marxist revolution that we are now living through, as the means of production are increasingly in the hands of the workers. Further to what she has just said, does she agree that the answer to some of the challenges is not just better regulations, but helping people to organise? If so, will she meet me, the Community trade union, the co-op movement and Indycube to discuss our work helping the self-employed to organise and unionise?
There is a marked difference between people who set up a business and take risks, including the risk of self-employment, and a few unscrupulous employers who force workers to go self-employed. In response to this excellent report, what will my hon. Friend do to ensure that people who are genuinely self-employed continue to receive benefits, but the unscrupulous employers do not?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We do not want to stand in the way of the incentives for people who genuinely take a risk by starting a business. They are the majority, and we do not want to do anything that upsets that balance. At the same time, as my hon. Friend will realise, we need to end the scourge of fake self-employment.
Disappointingly, the report does not go far enough on the issue of zero-hours contracts. The Labour Welsh Government have failed to support the prohibition of zero-hours contracts in devolved areas on seven occasions. Is it not the case that vulnerable workers in Wales are being let down by both the Tories and the Labour party?
As I have said, many individuals want to work in the flexible way that is afforded by zero-hours contracts, and almost 70% of people on those contracts are happy with their hours. As I have also said, we must take steps to promote the value of good work as an opportunity for the third who are not, whether they are in Wales or the rest of the United Kingdom.
Matthew Taylor writes in his report:
“We must equip our children and young people to enter the labour market successfully, but Government, employers and individuals also need to make sure everyone is best placed to thrive throughout what might be a working life spanning 50 years or more.”
How do the Government square that with the previous Prime Minister’s policy of stopping compulsory work experience in schools, which in its first year led to a drop of 60,000 work experience placements in our schools across the country? Will she look at that again?
That is a matter for the Department for Education. I agree that work experience is very important to young people and I am sure the Secretary of State will look favourably on that. My Department is looking to boost opportunities for lifelong learning to engender a culture in which people can progress in their careers.
Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was self-employed for almost 30 years. I was also the self-employment ambassador to the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, and I worked with Matthew Taylor on this report. I found him to be extremely non-partisan and an absolute gentleman. May I urge my hon. Friend to accept the proposed measures for the self-employed, especially the maternity and paternity benefits?
We have flexibility in the labour market on one side of the coin, but insecurity for people in employment on the other. There has been criticism, for instance from Unite the union this morning, that insecurity is to be the new norm, and we want to avoid that. Will the Minister think about reversing the coalition’s decision to extend from one year to two the protection of employment threshold?
I do not accept the premise that insecurity is the new norm. One of the purposes of this report was to look closely at the extent of insecurity and to produce recommendations on how that might be mitigated when it is not desired by the workers. I will consider the question that the hon. Gentleman raises, but it was not addressed in this report.
Speaking at the launch this morning, Mr Taylor suggested that traditional cash-economy workers such as window cleaners could use an app to collect money and declare directly to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so why does Uber, which has the most cutting-edge, fully automated app, not seem to declare the payments it makes to drivers directly to HMRC or to collect the national insurance numbers of drivers? Will the Minister strongly suggest that it does so?
The app was one of the most interesting suggestions. There might be limitations to the apps currently available, but in no way was Matthew Taylor advocating that these should be mandatory. They should, however, be available in a more sophisticated form than at present.
As the Government look towards this gig economy, will they consider Matthew Taylor’s remarks that:
“Our welfare system is a cruel mess”?
On universal credit, he said that
“no one outside Government thinks it will make the system fairer…There is a better way. A universal basic income…can improve incentives and rewards for work, increase human freedom and dignity”.
Will the Government consider his conclusions?
Matthew Taylor urges the Government to consider reducing tribunal fees. May I urge the Minister to go further, particularly in relation to pregnancy discrimination? Get on with abolishing them, and extend the period during which a case can be brought before a tribunal, because a period of pregnancy and maternity is a busy time when people are unlikely to be thinking about a court case.
The Minister has twice referred to the fact that flexibility seems to work only one way—to the benefit of the employer. Does that flexibility include her Government’s failure to prosecute a single employer in Wales last year for flouting the minimum wage rules?
To correct the record, I was not saying that flexibility was always a one-way street in favour of the employer; I said that this was, in exceptional cases, a real problem that needs addressing, but that is not necessarily the norm. In response to the other matters the hon. Lady has raised, I urge her to contribute her views as we go through the consultation.
When the Minister is considering how to respond to the review, will she talk to her colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the youth full-time social action review, which is considering the question of long-time volunteering? I realise that these are slightly different issues, but there is still a considerable overlap. The question of safeguards and protections is the same in some cases, so it seems sensible to wrap the two together.
I want to ask the Minister two quick questions. First, on the extension of workforce protections, will that include secondary contractors? For instance, if one person in a team of three or four is the main contractor, will dependent contractor status be extended to other people in the team? Secondly, while being a dependent contractor might provide a minor uplift for people who are self-employed, does the Minister agree that some employers will see this as an opportunity to downgrade people with employment protection to the status of dependent contractor against their will?
The hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. There is no intention to downgrade anybody’s rights. We want to be in a position to safeguard people’s rights and, when possible, improve them—we certainly do not want to downgrade them. I am sure that he will put his detailed observations into our consultation.
This Government continue to justify the existence of zero-hours contracts on the basis of flexibility, but the problems could largely be addressed if flexible working could be properly expanded and given a framework so that we knew exactly what it meant. Will the Government use this opportunity to properly expand flexible working and explain what it actually means?
The Taylor review recommends that the Government should make it easier for people in flexible arrangements to take their holiday entitlement. In the past, the Minister has struggled to explain the Government’s powers in this area. Will she tell us what powers currently exist to enforce the payment of holiday pay and, with the summer fast approaching, will she act on the Taylor report’s recommendations swiftly?
The Minister is right to say that the transfer of risk is at the heart of the problem. Drivers at AO World in my constituency are classified as self-employed but treated as employees without rights. Is there anything in the Taylor report that would end the practice of fining drivers every time there is an accident?
Page 11 of Mr Taylor’s report says:
“we have to examine why, with employment levels at record highs, a significant number of people living in poverty are in work.”
For as long as I have been here, when Members have asked questions about poverty, it has been the Government’s practice to respond with statistics about employment and unemployment. Will they now finally accept that such a thing as in-work poverty not only exists, but is a brutal fact of life for millions of people on these islands?
We have always been absolutely committed to reducing poverty, wherever it exists. The national living wage has gone a long way towards providing workers with a framework so that they need not sink into poverty, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider that fact further.
As someone who has done a few gigs in his time, may I urge the Minister to reject the execrable think-tankery jargon of the term “dependent contractor”? Work is work, and workers are workers. “Dependent contractors of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains,” is not going to change anything.
Order. For those new Members of the House who are not aware of the musical distinction of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), I can inform them that he is an illustrious member of the parliamentary rock band, MP4. If colleagues have not yet heard the band, they have not fully lived. I hope that they will hear the band in due course, preferably in Speaker’s House, where it has played before and will play again.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the term “dependent contractor”. This recommendation was designed to improve clarity and to increase the chances of workers getting the rights to which they are entitled, but it is just that: a recommendation. He is free to lobby against our acceptance of it during the course of our consultation.
I welcome the report’s acknowledgement that employment tribunal fees are a barrier to justice. The recommendation of fee-free tribunals to establish employment status is positive, but what can be done to ensure the quality of representation at the tribunals? What protection will there be to prevent the detrimental treatment of someone bringing a claim? Is it also the case that, once someone’s status has been determined, a fee will still have to be paid?
One of Matthew Taylor’s recommendations is that before an employee takes a case to an employment tribunal, they should receive firm advice on what their status is in reality. That would end a huge amount of uncertainty and unnecessary expense. We will consider that and all the other recommendations in this excellent report, which I commend to the House. I found much of it inspiring, and I hope that we can all work together to improve the quality of work in this country, as well as the number of jobs.