Queen’s Speech too ‘timid’ on low pay and job insecurity – Newcastle’s MP

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12 Jun 2014

Government plans in the Queen’s Speech over job exploitation are a ‘missed opportunity to truly tackle low pay and insecurity’ Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly told Business Secretary Vince Cable in the House of Commons.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Farrelly said that these were the issues that left ordinary, hard-working people feeling ‘left out, let down and left behind’ and which played a part - not for the first time - in the anti-politics vote for UKIP in May’s elections.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month show that the UK now has a total of 1.4 million people working on so-called ‘zero-hours contracts’, with no guaranteed hours or many of the employment rights most people take for granted.

Following a review in the autumn, which attracted 36,000 responses, in the Queen’s Speech the government is now only planning to ban one aspect of the controversial contracts: ‘exclusivity clauses’ which bar people from working for other employers.

‘It is clearly welcome that exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts will henceforth be banned. There will be cross-party support for that,’ Mr Farrelly said in a speech to the House.

‘Clauses that prevent employees on contracts from working for another employer, keeping them constantly on call with no guaranteed hours, are in many cases legal servitude.’

However, ‘The Business Secretary should go much further,’ Newcastle’s MP added. ‘He should, at a minimum, give workers a right to ask for normal employment contracts if they regularly work the same hours and a right to have a contract that specifies a minimum number of hours, to give vulnerable people at least a modicum of certainty and security.’

‘Likewise, the Business Secretary should give such workers the security of employment rights that many of us take for granted: the right to be given notice, rights against unfair dismissal and the right to redundancy pay. A flexible work force should never equate to an exploited work force.’

In the debate, Mr Farrelly also criticised the Government for ignoring the concerns of people on short hours and working for employment agencies. Seven years ago, Newcastle’s MP introduced a Private Member's Bill into the Commons to ensure equal pay and rights for agency workers, yet abuses still continue and workers are less protected here than in Europe.

‘We cannot have growth on the cheap without social and political consequences. We cannot have a recovery that leaves decent, ordinary people behind, insecure and struggling to make ends meet, while working all hours,’ Newcastle’s MP said.

Last year, the government said it wanted to see the Minimum Wage to rise to £7 an hour, yet in practice the annual change - which will come into effect later this year - only uprated it by 19p to £6.50.

Conversely, Labour’s leader Ed Miliband has said he wants to increase the Minimum Wage towards a more decent ‘Living Wage’, as a higher proportion of average earnings than now.

To read the Commons’ debate, just click here.