The Government’s good work plan represents the largest reform to employment rules in over 20 years. It includes measures to boost transparency and tackle one-sided flexibility for those in insecure work, and I have already tabled legislation in Parliament to take forward the programme.
A recent Resolution Foundation report shows that barely half of agency workers remain in one job beyond six months, making the Government’s arbitrary timeframe of 12 months before the right to request a direct contract kicks in totally meaningless. Labour has committed to giving all workers equal rights from day one; why have the Government not committed to doing the same?
The hon. Gentleman will welcome the reforms that have been made to deal with insecure work and, in particular, to do something that has been campaigned for by the trade union movement and supported by many employers, which is to remove the Swedish derogation that has provided a loophole for employers to avoid those rights. That legislation is now before the House, and I hope he will support it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the recently introduced right to request guaranteed working hours is not sufficient to protect workers on zero-hours contracts?
No. This is a very important extension of the rights of people on zero-hours contracts. It is important to recognise, first, that the number of employees on zero-hours contracts remains very small and, secondly, that most of those on zero-hours contracts want to have that flexibility. Those who do not want that flexibility and prefer a longer and more stable contract will now have the right to request one.
The hon. Lady will recognise that our package immediately introduced legislation for those rights that can be legislated for with secondary legislation. Primary legislation will shortly be brought forward for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which she chairs, and the Work and Pensions Committee to scrutinise.
Order. I was not looking for the right hon. Gentleman, although it is always a pleasure to be reminded of the fact of his presence.
I wish you and the Secretary of State a happy new year, Mr Speaker, but the sad fact is that the good work plan does little to change the lives of precarious limb (b) workers, who will still not be entitled to statutory sick pay, maternity pay or the right to claim unfair dismissal. For those on a zero-hours contract, all the requests in the world will not legally oblige their employer to provide more stable employment. I have asked this question time and again to no avail: can the Secretary of State confirm what happens when an employer refuses a request for more stable working hours?
It is very clear that we are not making it mandatory for people not to have a zero-hours contract. Such contracts are available to employers, but employees will have the right to request. Reasonable employers have offered more stable contracts to employees, but the Taylor report is very clear that the flexibility that zero-hours contracts offer is valued by many of the people who use them.
I am glad the Secretary of State has clarified that the right to request a more stable contract is, in fact, a meaningless proposal on paper. What is worse is that the Government also rejected recommendations from their own director of labour market enforcement to increase fines for companies that breach the minimum wage and for that money to be used to increase enforcement resource. The Government also rejected his recommendation that public procurement contracts should compel compliance with labour market regulations. With reports that the average employer can expect an investigation once in every 500 years, does the Secretary of State really think he is being serious about enforcing workers’ rights?
I am working closely with Sir David Metcalf, the director of labour market enforcement. On his particular recommendation about increasing penalties, we just have increased the penalties and it is reasonable to look at their effectiveness. I have made the commitment to the House that, of course, we will increase them if that proves necessary, but one of the other reforms that we are making is to boost the enforcement of workers’ rights by bringing together the different enforcement bodies so that such employers—the minority that do play fast and loose with the rights to which employees are entitled—should expect justice to be brought about. This will be part of the package that we have tabled.