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Employment: Migrant Workers

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are investigating the hours of work, payment of minimum wages, rates for overtime and unsocial hours, entitlements to holiday pay and sickness benefit and pension rights of migrant and agency workers. [HL1681]

The Government believe there are significant levels of protection for these workers already in place.

All workers are protected by the Working Time Regulations, which cover working hours and statutory holiday pay. The regulations ensure that all workers can work a maximum of 48 hours per week on average unless they sign a voluntary opt-out agreement. The regulations also provide all workers with 4.8 weeks of statutory paid annual leave per year rising to 5.6 weeks in April 2009. Rates for overtime and working unsocial hours are a contractual matter between the individual parties.

All workers are also entitled to the national minimum wage (NMW). The Government promote and enforce payment of the NMW through simple and effective means which support workers and businesses by deterring employers from underpaying their workers and removing the unfair competitive advantage that underpayment can bring. New automatic penalties of up to £5,000 for employers found not to be complying with the NMW were brought in under the Employment Act 2008. HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage. In 2007-08, it helped to restore £3.9 million in arrears to over 19,000 workers.

Entitlement to the state pension scheme is based on the national insurance contributions that an individual pays, is treated as having paid or is credited with. Migrant and agency workers can build up entitlement to the state pension in the same way as other workers. Migrant workers also have the same rights as other workers when it comes to access to private pension schemes arranged by the employer. This includes stakeholder pensions, where the employer has a statutory duty to designate at least one scheme for which membership is on offer to all employees (including migrant workers) who have been employed for a continuous period of three months. Whether or not these rights apply to agency workers would depend upon whether they are treated as employees for the purpose of the stakeholder pension scheme regulations.

Following the work of the Vulnerable Workers Enforcement Forum, which reported in August 2008, the Government are also redoubling their efforts to ensure that potentially vulnerable workers are fully aware of their existing rights. We have recently launched a £l million campaign on this, with the initial focus on agency workers specifically.

We will also be launching a consultation in the near future on the implementation of the EU agency workers' directive, which will, consistent with the CBI-TUC agreement of 20 May 2008, introduce equal treatment for agency workers in respect of basic working and employment conditions after 12 weeks in a given job.