|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Higgins: My Lords, given the weight of the programme we have this evening I shall not go into that. But be that as it may, I am slightly puzzled about the work on an unpaid basis for up to 15 working days. However, it also appears that the jobseeker remains on benefit during the work trial and both the employer and the jobseeker take part
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I had hoped that in my introduction to these regulations I had, to some extent, addressed the noble Lord's point. I accept the point I think he was seeking to make that £15 is a modest sum, but it is modest because it is parallel, for example, to the amount that a lone parent can retain if she is on income support and is working. There are perfectly decent and proper "reads across", but the group for whom we think it may be particularly appropriate are those working very short hours indeed--for instance, someone with severe learning difficulties who may nonetheless be working in a retail outlet, but supported. They will be able to keep that money, and it seems right that they should.
This brings me to the second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who was baffled about the relationship between the 15 days and the work vacancy. This may have been because I was cutting corners when trying to explain the scheme, being mindful of the time. Basically, the work trial is not work experience but a trial in a real job. The trial means that for three weeks a person can do a real job and continue to receive benefit. At the end of the trial the client and the employer can decide whether they wish to continue the employment. To qualify for that three weeks, the job must be a real job in the sense that it is full time. By full time we mean over 16 hours; not necessarily 30 or 35 hours but the point at which family credit, working family tax credit or DWA would kick in.
Secondly, the job must be one that is not temporary; in other words, it must be a job that lasts at least six months so that, if the work trial is successful, the person will go into a real and worthwhile job. The definition of that real and worthwhile job is that it is full time--more than 16 hours--and it will last a minimum of six months. As I say, there appears to be an attractively high success rate as a result.
With a disabled person, for example, an employer may not be aware of the disabled person's capacity; in turn, the disabled person may not be fully aware of how much staying power, physical fitness or aptitude he may need for a particular job. It is a no risk, no obligation situation. In practice it has turned out to be very successful. Both parties come in and, as a result, a person goes on to gain a job. With that explanation I hope that your Lordships will accept the regulations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].
On 2nd March we had a useful debate on the two sets of draft regulations which implement the minimum wage. I now present a draft Order in Council which will extend the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act, as well as the implementing regulations, to people who work offshore.
The employers of these workers will be subject to the same obligations as other employers under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999. They will be required to pay the workers at least the national minimum wage and to comply with the other requirements relating to the calculation of minimum wage pay and hours and the need to keep sufficient records.
Such workers will also have a right of access to their relevant records if they believe they are not receiving the national minimum wage and will be entitled to bring a claim for failure to pay the national minimum wage before an employment tribunal or other civil court. The draft order provides that tribunal claims will be heard before tribunals in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to the offshore area where the relevant act or failure to act took place.
Noble Lords may ask why it is necessary to extend the Act at all to offshore workers. The oil and gas industry is not one which would normally be associated with low pay. Instead, at least until recent months when the price of crude oil dropped significantly, it has usually been described in terms of bonanza, boom and oil riches. The workers who have been employed offshore have generally done very well from the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas. I believe that this remains true of the general picture and probably for 99 per cent. of cases.
But even in the richest sectors there may be pockets of low pay. Not everyone is an oil or gas engineer or a construction worker. Someone has to do the less well-rewarded jobs such as cleaning, general maintenance or refurbishment. That may also be the case in the oil and gas sector. If one believes what is reported in the press, there are stories that some workers who paint North Sea rigs are paid as little as 81p an hour. If such stories are true, 81p an hour is as unacceptable in United Kingdom waters as it is on dry land. It is right that workers should receive the minimum wage whether they are on dry land or offshore. It is therefore right to extend the provisions of the Act in this way to offshore employment.
I trust that your Lordships will find this draft order straightforward. We have had the arguments of principle about the national minimum wage. It will shortly become a reality for workers on the mainland. It must be right to extend the protection of the Act to offshore workers. It is logical to do so, and it complies with standard practice. It means that the national minimum wage picture will be complete from 1st May, when this order will come into force.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, the Minister rightly says that the matter of principle involved in the National Minimum Wage Act has been debated at considerable length. He is fully aware of the views of those of us on this side of the House.
The Minister referred to the level of pay of those working offshore but seemed a little uncertain, although the figure he quoted was very precise. He seemed to believe that there were people who were paid as little as 81p an hour. Given the precision of that figure, he presumably has some evidence. If that is so, perhaps he will tell us how he sees the Act operating as regards those people.
Secondly, how are the number of hours worked calculated when employees are on board a ship or a rig when there is no means of getting them off during the course of a tour of duty? Finally, how is the time spent on board counted for the purposes of the Working Time Directive?
I wish to make just one point to the Minister. These regulations are aimed at the offshore oil and gas industry. In the light of publicity over the past 24 to 48 hours in relation to the road haulage industry, does the Minister have any plans to extend the regulations to that industry?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I shall take those points in order. Regarding the figure of 81p, I was referring to a case that appeared in the press. My caution in confirming that is that I do not always believe everything that I read in the press, particularly these days.
On the question of hours, the provision applies in the same way as on land; that is, whenever people are working. The Working Time Directive does not at this point apply to offshore workers, who were one of the excluded categories. That is now being looked at as a further extension of the provision. So far as concerns its application elsewhere, I shall leave that for another occasion. I commend the order to the House.