Corby and East Northants MP Andy Sawford will today (Monday, June 24) present two Private Members’ Bills to the House of Commons which seek to offer greater protection for the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in Britain.
The Zero Hours Contracts Bill will prohibit the use of zero hours employment contracts, aiming to end the scandal of employers requiring workers to be available for work but where there is no guarantee of work available.
The Office of National Statistics estimates at least 200,000 people are employed on zero hours contracts in the UK, of which 75,000 are aged 16 to 24.
Zero hours contracts are now widespread in many sectors of the economy and are particularly prevalent in areas of higher unemployment where the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in Britain exist without knowing when the next payday might come.
Mr Sawford, who has been contacted by hundreds of people in the constituency about zero hours contracts, said: “People tell me about waiting for a call or turning up to the workplace day after day, only to find that there is no work, yet their contracts make it difficult to find alternative employment or to claim job seekers.
“I have heard examples of people making childcare arrangements or paying for transport to work and then waiting for hours before being told they are not needed.”
Mr Sawford added that some constituents had told him that because of zero hours contracts they are unable to get a bank overdraft, a mortgage or car finance.
The Bill will prohibit the use of zero hours contracts. It is only likely to be passed if the government allocate time to allow its passage.
Mr Sawford hopes that even if the bill does not become law in this parliamentary session, that it will be taken up again in a future session by his own party or the Liberal Democrats, who have raised concerns about zero hours.
The second Private Members’ Bill, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (Extension of Powers) Bill, will extend the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to enable it to regulate employment agencies in all sectors of the economy
In Corby there is a high concentration of agencies and many operate in the food and distribution sectors where the ‘Swedish derogations’ apply (opt outs of the Agency Workers Directive).
In May, a taskforce from HMRC and Employment Agency Standards carried out an inspection of 34 employment agencies in Corby. They discovered more than 70 breaches of the law, including many cases of unfair deductions and other issues with the minimum wage which led HMRC to estimate that £100,000 is owed to local workers. This is now being followed up with enforcement action.
Currently the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is limited to only certain sectors of the economy, such as cockle picking. The Bill will widen their powers to enforce the law and promote higher standards among all employment agencies.
Mr Sawford said: “Employment Agencies are a huge problem in many towns across Britain. There are some that follow the law but many are ripping off workers.
“I have heard many cases of bad practice in my constituency and sadly this has been confirmed by the recent inspection visits. It is common for workers to be laid of just before the 12-week qualifying period for more employment rights or to be charged for providing their own protective equipment.
“When more than 70 breaches of the law are found in my area it is just a snapshot of the scale of this problem across Britain. Giving the Gangmasters Licensing Authority these important new powers will help to tackle the problem.”
Mr Sawford’s Bill will also give the Gangmasters Licensing Authority powers to regulate advertising of vacancies overseas. The MP said many agencies advertise abroad without giving local workers a proper opportunity to apply for jobs.