Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hendy on this much-needed Bill. He has my full support. It seeks to modernise employment law—something the Government have failed to do, despite numerous promises. It would give millions of long-exploited gig workers greater rights, including a statutory minimum wage, statutory sick pay, statutory paid holidays, maternity and paternity pay, protection against unfair dismissal, minimum notice periods for ending employment and much more. As other speakers have pointed out, it would also improve the collection of income tax and national insurance contributions as well.

The Bill is more than just a piece of employment legislation; it is a bedrock for rebuilding our society by improving workers’ rights and, with it, the distribution of income and wealth to lift millions out of misery. Zero-hours contracts and fake self-employment have been used to reduce workers’ share of GDP, in the form of wages and salaries. It now stands at around 49.4%, compared to 65.1% in 1976. This rate of decline is unmatched in any other industrialised nation and must be reversed. This Bill provides small beginnings for that.

Some 14.5 million people, including 4.3 million children, live below the poverty line. It is a serious indictment of our society that people in employment have to rely on food banks. Eight in 10 people claiming universal credit are in work or looking for work. Too many find it difficult to pay their rent and their energy, water and broadband connection bills. Millions of schoolchildren go hungry. Children living in poverty are more at risk of being exploited by or becoming victims of criminal gangs.

The current pandemic has shown that thousands of people have died because they lacked access to good food and housing and could not take time off for emergencies. Employment rights are the key to addressing so many of our social problems. Improving the employment rights of just one person improves the quality of life of the whole family. It reduces chances of homelessness and improves possibilities of nutritional food. Greater worker rights reduce anxiety and insecurity, which improves mental health and reduces pressure on social care, the NHS, GPs and the healthcare system. Greater worker rights reduce pressure on the social security system, so fewer people will need social security benefits. Better distribution of income flowing from better employment rights lifts people out of poverty permanently.

The Government have a history of opposing emancipatory change in employment laws and elsewhere, but I hope they will curb their instincts and support the Bill for the enormous social benefits it will bring.