2nd reading
Friday 10th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, on tabling this Private Member’s Bill. It echoes the Judaeo-Christian teaching that workers deserve proper remuneration, and I support it.

I recognise that there are many advantages in having a flexible labour market which allows for individuals to tailor their work to their lifestyles. However, I and I know many others take issue with those times when employers curtail other people’s rights in an exploitative manor to reduce benefits costs. The Taylor review’s suggestion of replacing the category of working with a more positively defined “dependent contractor” was a positive step in preventing companies from unscrupulously categorising an employee as a worker while elevating the bogus self-employed into this category along with the increased rights it affords and the national insurance contributions that would accompany it.

When I read the very helpful brief from the House of Lords Library, I was struck by the estimates that bogus self-employment and the savings companies make by not paying national insurance probably result in the Government losing about £7.8 billion annually in national insurance contributions. While that is a guesstimate, it raises prescient questions about whether strengthening employment laws could raise some of the shortfall in national insurance that the Government hope to receive by means of their proposed 1.25% levy. Has the Treasury undertaken any internal economic modelling on the potential tax benefits in national insurance contributions of introducing a more clearly defined category of dependent contractor?

Of course, many of those who find themselves in the bogus self-employed category have been elevated to worker status on a case-by-case basis. However, the problem is that the legal onus is on those workers, in very precarious situations, to prove that they warrant those rights rather than on the immensely well-resourced companies. I therefore welcome the provisions in the Bill that place the duty to demonstrate that an individual is not an employee or worker on the company, not on the worker themselves. Shifting this responsibility—this legal duty—on to the employer is morally better than placing a burden on the least resourced to pursue legal recourse.

The CBI’s response to the consultation on employment status tried to defend these practices by highlighting that 53% of workers in the gig economy said that they were very or fairly satisfied by their work. That brings to mind some of those early-19th-century pamphlets which sought to claim that many slaves loved being in servitude. Just over 50% is not much to brag about, and, having tried to find the levels of UK job satisfaction in the rest of the population, which seems to be about 60% to 70%, the message is that gig workers have a much lower job satisfaction than other workers in the UK.

I hope Her Majesty’s Government will work with the Bill so we can see a new definition of dependent contractor or something else similar that deals with the current ambiguities and the problems they create. I believe this measure will end practices that exist within the UK labour market, and I give it my support.