On 29th June 2016 Baroness Quin asked Her Majesty’s Government “in the light of the increased use of zero-hours employment contracts nationally and regionally, what assessment they have made of the effects of such contracts on an individual’s chances of gaining full-time salaried employment, and on specific sectors, both public and private, of the UK economy.” The Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke in the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for introducing this important event. It does feel lonely over here, and I hope you will not think that I am the Opposition.
I have become interested in this issue in part because of my work on modern slavery. I name that, alongside this issue, because we are in a perfect storm that is making slavery and zero-hours contracts increasing phenomena in our society. We have heard about this perfect storm: this tightness in margins and the shifting of risk; the desire for flexibility; the fact that people are so mobile they do not develop a strong relationship with any employer anyway; and the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, economic inequality is increasing so much that people are desperate for work. Then migration, and especially illegal migration, adds another degree of desperation. There is a market to be exploited, both through slavery and through the unscrupulous use of zero-hours contracts, although we know these do suit some people.
We are talking about extremely vulnerable people, and I want to ask two questions about how we reach out to those under the kind of pressures articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean—people who do not have enough security to get a mortgage or pay rent, and whose whole lifestyle is therefore vulnerable. One area that I would like to invite the Minister to comment on is the relationship between the employer and those on zero-hour contracts in terms of the quality of care in the workplace. Many of my colleagues on the Benches opposite are great experts on the role of trade unions; in my own experience, from where I work in Derby, trade unions play an enormously creative part in helping people at work relate to the employment context and to the power of the employer, for good relationships. I think there is a question of how this traditional heritage can be made significant to help the most vulnerable people—to the person who was sent out to the back of the factory. What kind of care is there for that person, and what is the role of the unions as well as the employers?
Secondly, I would briefly ask the Minister to comment on the role of training institutions in trying to shift people on. I have done some research where I work: Derby College, our local college, had a scheme from 2012 to 2015 to help people who are unemployed to learn skills. It was based on European social funding, and was in partnership with employers such as our local hospital, East Midlands Airport and supermarkets. That scheme enabled a significant number of people to move on from zero-hours contract life into secure employment, by giving them skills and confidence and building relationships with employers. Out of 4,200 unemployed people who started under that scheme, 80% got accredited qualifications and 30% did progress into secure employment. That scheme finished in 2015, and they are still seeking further funding for a similar effort.
So, my two questions to the Minister are, first, about the quality of pastoral care in the workplace and the role and heritage of unions, working with employers, for these most vulnerable people and, secondly, about adequate funding for training institutions such as Derby College. Such institutions have a track record of relating to vulnerable people who are trapped, and trying to give them accredited skills, while also building relationships with employers, in order to put these people over the mark, away from zero-hours contracts and into proper employment.
The Earl of Courtown (Con) [extract]: …The right reverend Prelate mentioned the pastoral care available to people in these situations. I assure him that SMEs, to get the most out of their employees, need to give proper pastoral care…
…The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned rogue employers and their duty of care to their workers. It is vital for the UK economy and the wider labour market to tackle this labour exploitation—I already went into detail on that in my previous point.