Terms and Conditions of Employment: Rising Minimum Wage

 Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

This is my first statutory instrument debate in the Chamber, and it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is also a pleasure to follow Gillian Keegan.

When we are in this Chamber, I am sure there is always a moment when we ask ourselves whether the party of the establishment actually has a clue about what happens in real life. That moment was revealed today when my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss pointed out to the Minister that one of the increases in the minimum wage rate was the price of a Freddo bar, and we saw that some Government Members did not know what a Freddo bar was. The Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary—I did tell him I was going to mention him—was shouting from a sedentary position that he thought the price of a Freddo bar was 10p. What chance does the country have if someone who has advised the Prime Minister does not know the exact price of a Freddo bar? Perhaps the Library might want to do some research on the minimum wage rates we would be presented with today if the minimum wage rate had increased at the same rate as the price of the Freddo bar. I suggest that the rates would be higher than what the Government are presenting today.

 

Mike Wood: Clearly, one does not get a fine figure such as mine without knowing precisely the price of a range of chocolate bars. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware, as I am from having young children, that as recently as last month Freddo bars were indeed 10p in Tesco.

 

Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 

It seems unlikely—perhaps we will ask for photographic evidence from the hon. Gentleman of the price of a Freddo bar, or make that a competition for Members of Parliament this weekend.

Statutory minimum wage rates are important because in some sectors of the economy the statutory minimum rate actually becomes the maximum wage rate. It is important that statutory minimum wage rates are enforced properly. In answer to a question, the Minister notified me that the national minimum wage compliance unit has hired 420 staff to enforce national minimum wage compliance across these islands. There are 4,754 full-time equivalent posts for staff to chase social security fraud. Yet we know that more than 200,000 workers are not paid the proper statutory wage. That is an absolutely scandalous figure that needs to be addressed, so I hope the Minister can tell us what plans the national minimum wage compliance unit has to hire additional staff to correct the current situation and to ensure that the national minimum wage rates are enforced properly, so that in the future we do not have more than 200,000 workers being paid incorrectly.

The Minister mentioned the “Good Work Plan”. It is certainly the view of SNP Members that it does not go far enough. In fact, the Minister should just pick up the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill that I have introduced and take that forward, as it would give workers far better protection. My Bill would sort out the status of a worker, eliminate zero-hours contracts, provide protection for wages if a company ceases to trade or a company owner absconds, and deal with the increasingly common workplace situation in which workers turn up at work and are subjected to short-notice shift changes, in some cases being told, “We don’t need you today,” but in others being told, “You’re going to be working far more hours than we said when you turned up to work.” When does the Minister expect the statutory instruments relating to the “Good Work Plan” to come before the House? Will they be debated in the Chamber, like these regulations?

We welcome any increase, but these measures do not go far enough. Indeed, the Government are not dealing with age discrimination in minimum wage rates, which must end. Young people are being denied a real living wage—not the pretendy living wage—of £9 an hour, or £10.55 in London. I agree with the shadow Minister that UK Government Departments should be paying the London living wage. The fact that they are not is a disgrace.

Let us look at the percentage increases: for over 25s the increase is 4.9%; for 21 to 24-year-olds the increase is smaller, at 4.3%; for 18 to 20-year-olds the increase is 4.2%; and for 16 and 17-year-olds it is 3.6%. The apprentice rate is going up by 21p an hour, which will be scant consolation to those women born in the 1950s whom the Government keep telling they should take up apprenticeships as opposed to fighting for their pensions. They would get an apprenticeship rate of £3.90 an hour. Will the Minister tell us when this age discrimination is going to end? Does she not accept that 21 to 24-year-olds often have the same responsibilities, payment demands and bills as those who are 25 and over?

Why was the age of 25 picked for the pretendy living wage? We have never had a proper explanation of why it applies to those aged 25 or over, which seems to me to be a particularly ludicrous position. I remember the arguments that we used to use when I served on the Unison Scottish young members committee not that long ago. We argued a rather sensible position: if two individuals both work at a fast food restaurant flipping hamburgers and one is 17 and the other 37, they are both active participants in the labour market, yet the difference in pay as a result of the regulations is as much as £3.84 an hour. For an eight-hour shift the pay difference would be £30 a shift, and as much as £150 a week. It really is time for this age discrimination to end, and I look forward to the Minister telling us when that will happen.