HL Deb 11 July 1980 vol 411 cc1437-8

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many posts of low paid women cleaners it is proposed to dispense with at the Ministry of Defence, Bath, if and when the work is transferred to private contractors; and whether the contractor will be allowed to escape the obligation to pay national insurance contributions by manipulating employees' hours, thereby undercutting Civil Service costs.

The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)

My Lords, redundancy notices have been issued to 67 cleaning staff at Bath, including two full-time supervisory grades. On the second point, contract cleaning companies generally organise matters so that their work forces are employed for a limited number of hours, which ensures that the lower earnings limit for national insurance purposes is not normally exceeded.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that standards of cleaning in the Civil Service have been greatly reduced since contract cleaning has become widespread? The noble Lord has inferred that cost effectiveness is behind this decision to create redundancy. Is he aware that £27,000 will have to be found for redundancy pay? Is he also aware that the private contractor has interviewed these ladies and told them they can have continuing employment if they work 10 hours a week, thus avoiding national insurance, whereas at the moment they work 20 hours? Finally, may I ask the Minister whether the Government should encourage an employer to avoid national insurance unscrupulously, to the disadvantage of the employee and to the personal advantage of the employer?


My Lords, in my Answer I did not in fact say that this was a cost-effective operation, but we believe it is, so I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question on that point. Secondly, I do not think there is any reason to believe that standards have deteriorated, or will deteriorate, as a result of this kind of operation. Thirdly, I cannot see anything immoral or improper about an employer so organising his affairs that he makes a minimum contribution in the way that those who employ part-timers do.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, in view of the noble Lord's reply may I say this: Surely these women employed by the Ministry of Defence were entitled to pensions if they had been in that employment for so many years? What happens now when they work for private contractors? Do they get pensions?


My Lords, I do not know what the situation is about pensions for people working for private contractors as part-time employees. The noble Lord was, of course, quite right in saying that redundancy payments will be made to these people, and we expect to recover this redundancy expenditure over a period of about three years.


My Lords, while fully approving of the principle of the economies of using contractors, may I ask whether my noble friend can say whether over the broad spectrum this constitutes any danger to security in certain areas?


No, my Lords. Clearly this was one of the considerations that had to be borne in mind in this approach. There will be other establishments where a similar approach will be employed and security will be one of the things to be carefully safeguarded.

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