HL Deb 23 March 1999 vol 598 cc1283-4

11.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the order standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham.

On 2nd March we had a useful debate on the two sets of draft regulations which implement the minimum wage. I now present a draft Order in Council which will extend the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act, as well as the implementing regulations, to people who work offshore.

The employers of these workers will be subject to the same obligations as other employers under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999. They will be required to pay the workers at least the national minimum wage and to comply with the other requirements relating to the calculation of minimum wage pay and hours and the need to keep sufficient records.

Such workers will also have a right of access to their relevant records if they believe they are not receiving the national minimum wage and will be entitled to bring a claim for failure to pay the national minimum wage before an employment tribunal or other civil court. The draft order provides that tribunal claims will be heard before tribunals in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to the offshore area where the relevant act or failure to act took place.

Noble Lords may ask why it is necessary to extend the Act at all to offshore workers. The oil and gas industry is not one which would normally be associated with low pay. Instead, at least until recent months when the price of crude oil dropped significantly, it has usually been described in terms of bonanza, boom and oil riches. The workers who have been employed offshore have generally done very well from the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas. I believe that this remains true of the general picture and probably for 99 percent, of cases.

But even in the richest sectors there may be pockets of low pay. Not everyone is an oil or gas engineer or a construction worker. Someone has to do the less well-rewarded jobs such as cleaning, general maintenance or refurbishment. That may also be the case in the oil and gas sector. If one believes what is reported in the press, there are stories that some workers who paint North Sea rigs are paid as little as 81p an hour. If such stories are true, 81p an hour is as unacceptable in United Kingdom waters as it is on dry land. It is right that workers should receive the minimum wage whether they are on dry land or offshore. It is therefore right to extend the provisions of the Act in this way to offshore employment.

I trust that your Lordships will find this draft order straightforward. We have had the arguments of principle about the national minimum wage. It will shortly become a reality for workers on die mainland. It must be right to extend the protection of the Act to offshore workers. It is logical to do so, and it complies with standard practice. It means that the national minimum wage picture will be complete from 1st May, when this order will come into force.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Lord Sainsbury of Turville).

Lord Higgins

My Lords, die Minister rightly says that the matter of principle involved in the National Minimum Wage Act has been debated at considerable length. He is fully aware of the views of those of us on this side of the House.

The Minister referred to the level of pay of those working offshore but seemed a little uncertain, although the figure he quoted was very precise. He seemed to believe that there were people who were paid as little as 81p an hour. Given the precision of that figure, he presumably has some evidence. If that is so, perhaps he will tell us how he sees the Act operating as regards those people.

Secondly, how are the number of hours worked calculated when employees are on board a ship or a rig when there is no means of getting them off during the course of a tour of duty? Finally, how is the time spent on board counted for the purposes of the Working Time Directive?


Lord Razzall

My Lords, we share the objectives of the Government with regard to the national minimum wage. We welcome the implementation of the legislation and the regulations laid under it.

I wish to make just one point to the Minister. These regulations are aimed at the offshore oil and gas industry. In the light of publicity over the past 24 to 48 hours in relation to the road haulage industry, does the Minister have any plans to extend the regulations to that industry?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I shall take those points in order. Regarding the figure of 81p, I was referring to a case that appeared in the press. My caution in confirming that is that I do not always believe everything that I read in the press, particularly these days.

On the question of hours, the provision applies in the same way as on land; that is, whenever people are working. The Working Time Directive does not at this point apply to offshore workers, who were one of die excluded categories. That is now being looked at as a further extension of the provision. So far as concerns its application elsewhere, I shall leave that for another occasion. I commend the order to the House

House adjourned at two minutes past midnight.