HC Deb 06 July 1998 vol 315 cc731-3
11. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

What assessment she has made of the impact on women of implementing the part-time workers directive. [47478]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women (Ms Joan Ruddock)

This Government are committed to part-time workers having at least the same rights as full-time workers. This is particularly important to women as 83 per cent. of part-time workers are women. Implementation of the part-time workers directive will remove discrimination against them and increase the status of part-time work generally. This, I suggest, is a positive step for all those who choose to work part time in order to balance work and family life.

Judy Mallaber

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she share my regret that Britain, which has the second highest proportion of part-time workers in Europe, is one of the last countries in Europe to introduce legislation covering part-time workers? Does she agree that the 1984 equal pay directive was implemented inadequately, creating hurdles for women seeking equal treatment, and that such directives provide minimum standards on which Governments may improve? Will she therefore give an assurance that she will work closely with her colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure that the directive is implemented in a way that gives effective rights to part-time workers?

Ms Ruddock

I thank my hon. Friend for that thoughtful question. I very much share her concern that, as a result of the previous Government's failure to sign the social chapter, employees in this country were denied a raft of improvements to their working lives. She draws attention to the deficiencies of the equal pay legislation. I assure her that we share the concern that it has not brought equality of pay to women; at present, women are paid about 80 per cent. of the average for men.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has been undertaking a consultation on that matter, and soon we, as a Government, will receive its recommendations. I assure my hon. Friend that the Ministers for Women are working closely with the Department for Education and Employment in considering those recommendations and preparing to give our opinions on them. We are also working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure that women's interests are served by the proper implementation, as my hon. Friend suggests, of the part-time workers directive in United Kingdom law.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Given the changing patterns of work in the United Kingdom, which are to be welcomed, and given the great value of part-time jobs to women and, indeed, to men, does the Minister agree that the steps rightly taken to protect those jobs should be balanced by our making sure that there is sufficient scope for latitude in regulation, so as not to hinder the creation of many more part-time jobs for women?

Ms Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman has not asked me a specific question. The wording of his remarks is not at all clear. As he knows, the Government have repeatedly said that we want flexibility at the workplace, properly protecting workers but preserving the interests of employers who have taken advantage of flexibility and given us a vibrant economy.

Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the part-time workers directive is part of the Government's acknowledgement that family-friendly employment is essential to create stable environments at home and at work? We must ensure that women can continue to play a vital role in employment—there has been an explosion in the number of women in part-time work—and that they can work secure in the knowledge that there will still be enough flexibility for them as mothers to play a full role in home life, especially when the children are sick. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Ministers for Women will work with the Department of Trade and Industry team to ensure that the White Paper on family-friendly employment considers the responsibilities of women and families when children are sick, and when women need to dip in and out of employment?

Ms Ruddock

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have in circulation a consultation document on fairness at work, which lists the ways in which the Government propose to legislate for a range of opportunities for people to combine their working lives with good parenting. For example, the parental leave directive which is to come into UK law will make provision for people to have time off work around the time of the birth or adoption of a child. We are also considering time off for family emergencies. The consultation will attempt to define such emergencies.

We recognise overall that child care provision must underpin employability and opportunities, especially for women who still have the major caring responsibilities. For both women and men, family-friendly employment practices by employers will be encouraged and promoted by the Government, because we consider that appropriate in modern times.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

As was evident from the figures that the Minister gave in response to the main question, part-time work offers many women opportunities to enter the workplace that flexibly meet their needs and those of their family circumstances. Conservative Members have noted that, when asked to do so by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), the Minister failed to support the continuing need for a flexible economy and an increase in the number of part-time jobs for women.

From the figures that the Minister gave, it is clear that any loss of part-time jobs will disproportionately affect women. What assessment has she made, therefore, of the number of women who will lose their part-time job as a result of the Government's policy to sign up to the social chapter? What discussions has she had with fellow Ministers on the impact of that policy on women, or was she absent when the discussion of the impact of that policy on women was held, as she was when her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced the Government's new policy on the appointment of women to public bodies?

Ms Ruddock

I shall answer the second point first. I am sure that the House is unaware that the hon. Lady referred to an occasion on which I was not present when the publication of an important document on public appointments of women and men was announced. The Ministers for Women had contributed substantially to that programme. We have a principled position of 50:50 women and men in public appointments. For various reasons, the date chosen for the announcement was one on which I was speaking at an important conference in Bristol. There is no difference between my right hon. and hon. Friends and me on these matters: 50:50 women and men in public appointments, which the previous Government signally failed to achieve.

The hon. Lady asked whether any assessment had been made of the number of women who would lose their part-time jobs as a result of the Government's policy of signing up to the social chapter. The Government as a whole have examined the issue of the social chapter, and the various measures that we think will improve the conditions of United Kingdom workers in comparison with those in other member states. We have not concluded that those measures will result in a loss of jobs; on the contrary, the view of the Government, employers and workers themselves is that they will provide a flexibility in the workplace that will enable our workers to continue to enjoy opportunity and employment. We do not think that there is any question of the new measures' leading, in themselves, to a reduction in jobs.

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