HC Deb 20 June 1966 vol 730 cc28-30
51. Mr. Lomas

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the growing practice on the part of provident clothing and supply companies, check traders, and other similar firms, of ending their present contract of employment with their part-time workers and treating these people as self-employed with the obvious intent of terminating their responsibilities under the National Insurance Act, the Redundancy Payments Act and the Contracts of Employment Act; and if he will take steps to stop this practice.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I have current information about one firm of this type which has proposed to its part-time agents a new contract under which they would be self-employed. I understand that the union concerned is in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance about the correct classification of these workers for national insurance purposes.

The Contracts of Employment Act and the Redundancy Payments Act do not apply to part-time workers working less than 21 hours a week. It is open to workers who are covered by these Acts to pursue claims in respect of notice through the courts and in respect of redundancy payments, through the industrial tribunals.

Mr. Lomas

While expressing my thanks for the investigations that have been made, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware that many of these firms which are indulging in this practice are escaping their liabilities under the Selective Employment Tax which will be coming into operation in October? Is she aware further that, surely, in the interests of the nation, of the employee and of the consumer, it is high time the practice was thoroughly investigated and a stop put to it?

Mrs. Williams

My right hon. Friend and I very much deprecate the practice, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the case which he has in mind presents special circumstances, and it was to that case that my original Answer was referring.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. Lady aware that in answer to an early Question, the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said that the Government would take steps to halt the spread of self-employment? Can she outline the steps that the Government have in mind?

Mrs. Williams

This is a wider Question. In answer to it, I can say that it is very much under discussion at present. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to put down a specific Question on it.