This article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 24th November 2014
Ed Miliband will pledge to crack down on “cowboy employment agencies” on Monday as he outlines a raft of measures that will ban exclusive recruitment of overseas workers and close loopholes that allow the wages of permanent staff to be undercut.
As new figures show that the number of people on temporary agency contracts is at the highest level since 1997, the Labour leader will pledge to end working practices which allow agencies to operate “in the shadows of our economy and on the margins of the law”.
Miliband will outline a three-point plan to:
• Close a legal loophole known as the Swedish derogation which allows employment agencies to pay agency workers a lower rate than permanent employees if they are paid between assignments. Labour says there is evidence that agency workers are sometimes paid the lower rate even when they work regular shifts.
• Ban employment agencies from recruiting exclusively from abroad.
• Force “rogue agencies” that exploit workers illegally to sign up to a licensing system. Authorities would have the power to revoke a licence if they are found guilty of misconduct.
Miliband will say: “We will not tolerate a zero-zero economy where hundreds of thousands are kept on zero hour contracts while a tiny privileged minority pay zero tax. And nor will we tolerate a world of work that is becoming more brutal because of the way some cowboy employment agencies have been allowed to operate. They are undermining dignity at work, driving down standards and creating greater insecurity for families.
“There has been a huge increase in temporary agency work in recent years. Many employment agencies play their part in supporting businesses, as well as workers, who want flexibility. But there is now overwhelming evidence that some are operating in the shadows of our economy and on the margins of law, damaging the basic fabric of British life that hard work should be properly paid.
“Even the industry itself is expressing concern that the number of rogue agencies have increased in recent years. They are breaking the law on the minimum wage, failing to pay their taxes, and exploiting workers to undercut the wages of permanent staff. These rogue agencies need to know their time is up and we will act.”
Miliband will outline his reforms after the latest official quarterly figures (July to September) showed a 36% increase in the number of temporary agency workers compared with 2009. There is a 20% increase compared with last year.
> It’d be nice if he’d also pledge to outlaw the necessity to sign up for Universal Jobmatch as a condition of receiving benefits (or the belief, fostered by Jobcentre “advisers” that you have to – I still haven’t).
Source – Welfare Weekly, 24 Nov 2014
Labour leader Ed Miliband is to turn his fire on Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct chain, in a major speech attacking “zero hour” contracts.
Mr Miliband will accuse the chain of “Victorian practices” in the way it treats staff.
And he will highlight plans to change the law – so that workers with regular shifts have the legal right to a regular contract, if Labour wins the next election.
It comes as the Labour leader continues his fightback following reports that some MPs had concerns about his leadership of the party.
Earlier this week he delivered a speech pledging to stand up to “vested interests”, to ensure hard work was rewarded and to stamp down on tax avoidance by the very wealthy.
Today he is set to focus particularly on zero hours contracts, in which work is not guaranteed and staff are called in as needed.
Mr Miliband is to say:
“A graphic symbol of what is wrong with the way this country is run is the army of people working on zero-hours contracts with no security while a few people at the top get away with paying zero tax.
“This zero-zero economy shows we live in a deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust country run for a few at the top, not for most people. It is a country I am determined to change.”
And he will highlight Sports Direct, which has 400 stores and is estimated to have 17,000 people on zero hours contracts.
“Sports Direct has thousands of its employers on zero-hours contracts, the vast majority of its workforce.
“Sports Direct has predictable turnover, it is a modern company with stores on many high streets and, judging by its success, where many people shop.
“But for too many of its employees, Sports Direct is a bad place to work.
“This is not about exceptional use of zero-hours contracts for short term or seasonal work which some employers and workers may find convenient. This is the way Sports Direct employs the vast majority of its workforce.
“These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st Century.”
Mr Miliband will set out plans to legislate to give employees the legal right to a regular contract if they are working regular hours; to refuse demands that they are available over and above their contracted hours, and to compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice.
An inquiry commissioned by Labour and conducted by businessman Norman Pickavance, former HR & Communications director at supermarket chain Morrisons, reported earlier this year:
“Sports Direct has expanded dramatically since 2008 and gained a large share of the sports retail market. About 17,000 of their 20,000 strong staff are employed on zero-hours contracts.”
Last month the firm said it would make its employment terms clearer in job adverts for zero-hours posts, following legal action brought by a former employee.
Mr Ashley, an entrepreneur who built up his business from a single sports shop in Maidenhead, bought a majority share in the club in 2007.
Meanwhile, controversial payday lender Wonga has agreed with Newcastle United to remove its logo from all children’s replica shirts and training wear from the 2016/17 season.
Wonga said it followed a review of its marketing launched by new chairman Andy Haste in July to ensure that none of it could inadvertently appeal to the very young or vulnerable.
It has already ended its puppet advertising campaign.
The company said the logo was being removed from children’s kit at the earliest possible opportunity, and that due to kit production schedules this would be from the start of the 2016/17 season – the last season of the current shirt sponsorship deal.
Darryl Bowman, Wonga marketing director said: “As a responsible lender we believe removing our logo from children’s replica shirts and training wear is the right thing to do. We appreciate the club’s support in this matter.”
Newcastle United managing director Lee Charnley said: “We understand and respect Wonga’s position and are happy to support their decision.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Nov 2014