HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1043-5 4.14 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure that part-time employees have entitlement to remuneration on a pro rata basis with full-time employees. This Bill would ensure that part-time employees are paid no less—on a pro rata basis—than full-time employees for jobs that are the same and carry similar responsibilities. It would further ensure that benefits such as sick pay, pensions, holiday pay and maternity or paternity provision are awarded on the same pro rata basis.

The world of work is changing. The nine-to-five, Monday till Friday generation is slowing passing, and will soon be confined to the annals of history. The future of the world of work is the flexible labour force and the part-time worker.

In the past few decades, we have seen a massive increase in the number of part-time workers. In 1971, there were just over 3 million people in part-time work, which was 15.5 per cent. of the work force. The understanding of the day was that those people were predominantly female workers who were supplementing family income by carrying out relatively low-skilled jobs for low wages, or students and teenagers who were earning a little extra pocket money. Many employers thought that giving those people jobs was doing them a favour, and that it was therefore reasonable to offer part-time workers no protection and low wages.

The number of part-time workers has doubled in the past 25 years. There are now more than 6 million part-time workers, which is nearly a third of the work force, and the number is increasing. It is predicted that, by 2001, nearly 7.5 million workers will be employed in part-time work.

Part-time workers are fast becoming the linchpin of our economy. In fact, the reduction in unemployment in the past two years has been based on creation of part-time jobs. Since 1993, 500,000 part-time jobs but only 400,000 part-time jobs have been created. In my constituency, almost three in 10, or 28 per cent., of workers work part-time. Among the female work force, nearly half the workers now work part-time. Most other constituencies have similar statistics for part-time working.

It would be absurd, with so many part-time workers, to perpetuate the claim that part-time workers are teenage waiters and mums who have kids at school and want to earn pin money. Part-time workers today are employed in every sector of industry and commerce, as well as in more traditional service sector occupations and on the factory floor. They are professionals, specialists and managers. They care about their careers. They want to fulfil their potential in the work force, and, obviously, they care about the wages and benefits they receive.

It would be extremely foolhardy to ignore the skills, spending power and social significance of this sector of the work force, yet millions of part-time workers still receive inadequate employment protection and second-rate wages. Six out of 10 part-timers receive a lower hourly wage than their full-time colleagues, and—on average, on a pro rata basis—they receive less than half the fringe benefits that full-timers receive.

Part-timers account for about three quarters of Britain's low-paid workers. A recent Trades Union Congress study showed that 77 per cent. of female part-time workers-3.7 million women—and 72 per cent. of male part-time earners, which is 800,000 men, earn below the Council of Europe's decency threshold of £5.88 per hour, with many workers earning significantly less.

In recent weeks, my local newspaper, The Bath Chronicle, has advertised many part-time jobs, including evening and weekend catering assistants' jobs at £3 an hour; part-time work as a catering/kiosk assistant, also at £3 an hour; and a cleaner/general assistant at £2.90 an hour. Today, at the Bath jobcentre, the unemployed can consider the merits of part-time evening work as an elderly person's carer at £3.30 an hour; shoe retailing at £3.28 an hour; pub cleaning at £3.01 an hour; or waitressing at £3 an hour. Those are not figures of which we can be proud, and they are not indicative of a nation at ease with itself. Good employment practice does not mean short-changing employees. A thriving economy does not have millions of workers living below the breadline.

Wage discrimination is currently practised in many forms. An employer may simply pay his part-timers less than the going rate, or may decide not to pay a part-tuner the going rate for overtime, commission or bonus pay. He may fail to give part-timers the same incremental rates or pay increases as full-time employees.

Despite some welcome amendments to United Kingdom legislation designed to bring our laws into line with law on sex discrimination and European Union law, none of the practices I have outlined is illegal. I believe that such discrimination cannot be allowed to continue.

The cost of paying such a large number of workers lower wages is profound. There is a cost to the state, which is forced to subsidise low wages with income support. There is a cost to the nation's skill base, because many employers decide that it is not worth investing money in training low-paid, part-time workers. There is also a cost to human life as many young people are dissuaded from entering the low-paid, part-time sector, and some turn to crime, drug dealing and the thriving black market.

The Bill would make it illegal for an employer to pay part-time workers lower wages, pro rata, than full-time workers if they are engaged in the same work. It would also make it illegal for employers not to pay part-time workers the same fringe benefits as those received by full-time employees, again pro rata, simply because they are part-timers.

Some will no doubt argue that that would place a burden on employers and lead to unemployment. The reality is that granting equal rates of remuneration to part-time workers would have merely a marginal effect on the total pay bill. A report by the Policy Studies Institute entitled "Value for Money" recently claimed that giving Britain's 6 million part-time workers equal rights with full-time workers would cost just half of 1 per cent. of the total annual pay bill. That is significantly less than the £1.8 billion of perks and expenses pocketed by the United Kingdom's top company directors—at least according to the Inland Revenue's figures.

The costs involved would be more than offset by the increase in productivity brought about by job security, better training and increased motivation—all provided by equal pay legislation. Such a step would save the state money and ensure that our work force are motivated, skilled and secure. It would prevent us from entering the next millennium with an impoverished work force.

The Bill has received the broad support of the TUC, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, and the Equal Opportunities Commission. More importantly, it is supported by more than 6 million part-time workers in this country and by the majority of full-time workers.

I hope that the House will support the Bill, and send a clear message to Britain's part-time workers that their efforts are valued and respected. Part-time should not mean second best. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Don Foster, Mr. Denis MacShane, Mr. Nick Harvey, Mr. Chris Davies, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mr. David Rendel, Mr. David Chidgey, Mr. Roger Berry, Mrs. Diana Maddock, and Mr. Archy Kirkwood.