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Ms Walley: I am very happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. It is absolutely right that access to employment tribunals should not be based on the ability to appoint very expensive lawyers. There should be a basic right of access to information, and that right should apply as much to small companies and businesses as to those who are employed in those places. I greatly regret the fact that although the citizens advice bureau in Stoke-on-Trent, where I know a little about the situation, is able to give advice, it is not able to represent people at employment tribunals. I recognise that there are two sides to the issue. I would be very pleased if people were more knowledgeable, had better access to information and could better exercise their employment rights.
Mr. Hammond: The hon. Lady seems to hanker after less formal proceedings in employment tribunals. Does she therefore think that the Government should have awaited the outcome of the Leggatt review on tribunals before introducing changes to the employment tribunal regime?
I also ask Ministers to consider the location of employment tribunals. In my constituency, employees and employers who become involved in an employment tribunal have to go to Shrewsbury. I cannot think of any other reasonalthough I am sure that hon. Members from Shrewsbury could give me onewhy anyone in my area would go to Shrewsbury. This morning I checked the bus timetables, and they showed that one would have to catch a 6.50 am bus to arrive at 8.45 am in Shrewsbury. The next bus would arrive too late for the start of the tribunal. Moreover, a train journey to Shrewsbury requires a change at Crewe and would take longer than a train journey to Birmingham. Incidentally, a bus journey from Stoke-on-Trent takes longer to Shrewsbury than to London.
I simply wonder whether the location of many employment tribunals is no longer convenient, and whether we should consider siting them better in many constituencies so that we can better meet people's needs. That would do much to improve knowledge about the work of employment tribunals and how they are used.
I have consistently supported proposals to assist the resolution of disputes in the workplace. I welcome the principle of statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures, because that would encourage employers to adhere to appropriate disciplinary procedures and employees to follow that grievance procedure. It is right that a dismissal will automatically be found to be unfair if the statutory disciplinary procedure has not been followed.
The problem with the statutory disciplinary procedure is that it is simply an empty shell. It contains no requirement for the employer to hold a fair hearing, other than to set out allegations and hold a meeting. There is no requirement to investigate the allegation, no reference to questioning of witnesses and no mention of rights of representation. Given the fact that ACAS has a well thought out code of practice that employers have been encouraged to follow, perhaps we could reconsider those two different sets of recommended disciplinary procedures during the Bill's passage, and try to satisfy some of the wishes expressed by Opposition Members for more simplified regulation of business.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): On that point and on the question of review, does my hon. Friend agree that a review of the Employment Relations Act 1999 is necessary, especially in view of the experiences of some of my constituents employed at the Friction Dynamics
The second problem with the statutory disciplinary procedure is that it incorporates a modified procedure to deal with summary dismissal for gross misconduct. That procedure contains only two steps and differs from the standard procedure in that no provision is made for any kind of hearing. Has it been assumed that summary dismissal is synonymous with instant dismissal? I was under the impression that summary dismissal referred to dismissal without notice. When the Minister replies to the debate, I would be grateful if he would address that point.
Another important issue is the failure of employers to provide written statements of terms and conditions. From the cases in my constituency, I know that that is one of the major stumbling blocks to the resolution of disputes in the workplace. Current legislation requires employers to issue written statements in the first two months of employment. In view of the briefing that Iand many other hon. Membershave received from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, perhaps we could find a way to ensure that employers issue those written documents when required, because the Bill contains no right to make a free-standing complaint to a tribunal about the absence of a written statement. I do not want to make more work or create more bureaucracy, but it is important that both employer and employee have a written statement. If it is not issued, the solution may be for people to request it once they know more about their rights. I hope that the changes introduced will achieve that, but it will not happen in the prevailing culture.
Reference has been made to clause 45. I welcome many of the Bill's provisions and I was interested in the comments by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford about gold plating. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the gold plating in respect of fixed-term workers. I am pleased that the Bill will grant the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that will give effect to the directive on fixed-term work. I am especially pleased that the regulations will go further than the directive and prevent pay and pension discrimination against fixed-term employees. I give praise where praise is due.
I am slightly disappointed, however, that the proposed regulations will apply to the narrow definition of "employee", rather than the broader category of "worker" and I support the intervention made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) on that issue. The regulations affecting part-time workers apply to the broader category of workers, and the directive that gives effect to part-time work regulations and the directive that gives effect to the fixed-term work regulations contain identical definitions of "worker". On logical and, perhaps, on legal grounds, it is unsatisfactory for the proposed fixed-term work regulations to have restricted application. That would give rise to uncertainty and confusion for workers and employers and I wonder whether the Secretary of State's forthcoming review might be completed in time to go hand in hand with the Bill.
On the extension of employment protection rights, it is the workers who do not fall under the legislative definition of employee, such as casual workers, agency workers, home workers and contract workers, who are among the most vulnerable members of our work force. I see from cases in my constituency surgery that those workers are a fast growing category, but they have the least protection in terms of employment rights. The broader category of workers is protected under the working time regulations, the national minimum wage legislation, the sex, race and disability legislation, the part-time workers regulations and by the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance procedures and hearings. However, key rights restricted to the narrow definition of employees include the right to claim unfair dismissal, the right to claim a redundancy payment and the right to take maternity leave. It is wrong that some workers should be denied those rights at work simply because of the category into which they fall. I hope that the Government will consider the extension of employment protection rights to all workers to reduce some of the unfairness inherent in the system.
UCATT recently carried out a survey of bogus self-employed workers. Perhaps this is the time to consider their situation and to consider in further detail the concerns of some in the public sector about a twin-track system of employment. Unison has made proposals for a fair wages clause, in relation to the TUPE regulations, and I hope that the Government will consider including such provision.
I am grateful for the chance to contribute to the debate. More and more people come to my surgery who are experiencing real problems at work and the Bill will make some real and significant improvements. It will be good for British business and the people who work in British business. I look forward to further detailed discussion during the Bill's progress.