Fire and Rehire
I am aware that there have been reports of several businesses and industry sectors considering making large numbers of staff redundant. I appreciate that many businesses have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, including those operating in the hospitality, leisure, entertainment, culture, travel, retail and transport sectors, and I sympathise with anyone who is facing redundancy during the pandemic. Redundancy is never an easy process to go through, and it is important that those who have been made redundant are aware of their rights.
The Private Members’ Bill, introduced by Gavin Newlands MP, seeks to prevent businesses from adopting ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. Although I appreciate the strength of feeling which a small number of constituents have, I do not support the Bill, as ultimately terms and conditions of employment are a matter for employers and employees. Companies should behave responsibly, and employers threatening to fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable, but there is already recourse for those who feel they have been treated unfairly. If an employee feels they have been dismissed unfairly, they should first check their rights: https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights, before they consider taking their case to an employment tribunal.
While employers and employees must be given the flexibility to arrange the terms and conditions of employment, I expect all employers to treat their workers fairly and in the spirit of partnership. I strongly condemn the use of ‘fire and rehire’ as a negotiating tactic.
I would like to reassure you that I have, nonetheless, spoken to my ministerial colleagues to make sure they are aware of the concerns of employees. During this difficult time, it is only right that employers should act responsibly and therefore only use the Job Retention Scheme to protect jobs. I understand that the Government is urging employers not to use the Job Retention Scheme irresponsibly and thereby to make someone redundant on less favourable terms than they would otherwise have received.
I welcome that, to better understand the issues in relation to fire and rehire, the Government is working with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). As part of this, there have been a number of roundtables and discussions with businesses, employee representatives and other bodies to discuss the issues in more detail. This helped to build an evidence base which ACAS has presented to the Government. I understand that officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are considering the options and next steps, and ministers will publish a report in due course. It is important that the Government continues to stand behind workers and to stop unscrupulous practices where they occur.
Each individual employee will face different circumstances, but there are a significant number of rules and processes that employers have to follow, and I would urge anyone facing redundancy to visit the Coronavirus page on this website. Information specifically relating to redundancy can be found here: https://www.selainesaxby.org.uk/redundancy-advice
With the Government's broader vision for adult skills in mind, wanting to reduce complexity in the adult skills landscape and recognising the need to work closely with a wide range of key stakeholders and experts, the National Retraining Scheme is being integrated into the National Skills Fund.
The National Retraining Scheme will no longer continue as a separate programme, but rather its work and learning will be rolled into the development of the National Skills Fund. This will be reflected in wider communications around the National Skills Fund and the broader offer for adult skills. It will include the conclusion of the trials of the Get Help to Retrain service, a digital platform that helped adults identify their existing skills as well as new training options.
I regret any loss of jobs in the UK as a result of redundancy, and I very much appreciate the efforts of BT staff to keep communication lines open during a period where many people have relied on them to work or learn from home.
I have been assured that my ministerial colleagues regularly engage with BT about a range of topics, including their UK workforce, at both the official and ministerial levels. Ultimately, BT is a private company and decisions about structure and employment are a matter for BT’s Board. I am encouraged that BT's approach is to minimise redundancies through natural attrition and to provide opportunities to re-skill and redeploy workers whenever possible.
Ministers are committed to boosting job creation, and the 'Plan for Jobs' announced during the Summer Economic Update makes up to £30 billion available with a clear goal to create, protect, and support jobs, and to spur the UK's recovery following Covid-19. The plan includes three main points: supporting people to find the jobs that are out there, creating new jobs through investing in our infrastructure and housing, and protecting jobs by revitalising the hard-hit sectors upon which many jobs depend.
I would like to first be clear that NHS pay has not yet been finalised and we are at the beginning of the process, not the end. The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers and any pay change will have a significant financial impact, and I know that the matter has been of great focus and negotiation for my Ministerial colleagues.
The Government submitted evidence to the independent NHS pay review about what it considered was affordable. The unions have asked for 12% pay increases, and I believe that they know this is unaffordable and inappropriate in the financial circumstances. The Independent Pay Review Bodies will make recommendations in late Spring, when they will be considered by the Government, and I anticipate that the recommendation will come back somewhere in between the Union and the Government recommendations. While I appreciate that this is not precise, I cannot pre-empt what the Independent Pay Review bodies will decide.
I believe that the passion, commitment and specialist knowledge of our NHS staff is part of what makes our NHS exceptional. It has been a difficult year for us all, and I share my constituents’ strong feelings, good will and gratitude to those NHS workers who have worked bravely and tirelessly throughout the pandemic. I know that many of my MP colleagues and government Ministers share this gratitude and recognise the sacrifice, commitment and dedication of our NHS workers over the past year. While I believe it is important to honour this, the Covid-19 pandemic has had real consequences on public finances which cannot be ignored.
I have been assured that what the Government has tried to do with its recommendation for a 1% pay rise for NHS staff is to give NHS staff as much as it can at the present time. It is important to see this in the broader context: all but the lowest paid workers across the public sector have had their pay frozen for 2021/22. In addition, we should not forget that over 1 million NHS staff also continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, including a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses, with the average nurse pay now £34,000 per year, and that junior doctors' pay has been increased by 8.2%.
I welcome the investment that the Government has already made in the NHS workforce, including £513m in professional development and increased recruitment, £30m on staff mental health support including wellbeing hubs and occupational health support, and the new bursary programme giving at least £5,000 each year to new nursing, midwifery, and Allied Health professional students. The Government has also led the way to ensure that we have all taken actions to protect the NHS through the national guidance and restrictions in the last 12 months.
Ministerial Maternity Act
I appreciate the great strength of feeling on this issue, on both sides. The Government accepted an amendment in the House of Lords to Bill to call pregnant women 'mothers' and not 'people'. The overriding purpose of the Act is to ensure that ministers are able to benefit from maternity leave, on the same terms that Civil Servants and the Armed Forces are able to do.
Since 2007, when changes were introduced by the then-Labour Government, successive governments have sought to avoid gender-specific pronouns when drafting legislation. This has been to ensure that we do not assume only someone of a particular sex is able to do a particular job.
Notwithstanding, Ministers listened to the concerns and agreed that the amended wording was legally acceptable. I understand that different people have different concerns about the wording, and it is clear that however the wording is set, there are some who will feel it is wrong. However, I believe that the overarching focus should be that Ministers will benefit from maternity leave if they are entitled, regardless of how they identify or what gender specific wording is used.
The Government has put forward a clear commitment to supporting people through this challenging time, with unprecedented packages of support being rolled out for businesses and individuals alike. I welcome that additional support is being provided through the welfare system, representing an injection of around £9.3 billion.
As I understand it from discussions with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Government has delivered a suite of measures that can be quickly and effectively operationalised to benefit those facing the most financial disruption during the pandemic. It is important to remember that new claimants will generally be receiving Universal Credit (UC), and claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for UC if they believe that they will be better off. There are special arrangements for those in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium, who are now able to make a claim to UC. However, claimants should check their eligibility before applying to Universal Credit, as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.
It is important to add that those on legacy benefits may have benefitted from other support such as mortgage holidays and the income protection schemes. The increase in Local Housing Allowance rates benefits both Universal Credit claimants and legacy claimants in receipt of housing support. This significant investment cost almost £1 billion and ensures that more than 1 million households will see an increase, on average, of £600 per year. In addition to the extra support provided through UC and Working Tax Credit, the legacy benefits were increased by 1.7% in April 2020 following the announcement to end the benefit freeze.
When someone is facing the end of their life is it vital they get the support they need quickly. That is why the Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI) provide simple and fast access to benefits for people with a terminal illness or limited life expectancy. The SRTI allow claimants who are unlikely to live longer than 6 months to claim under a fast-tracked process without the requirement for waiting periods or a face-to-face assessment and in most cases, to receive the highest rate of award.
The following benefits allow claims to be made under the SRTI; Personal Independence Payment, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance. A claim made under the SRTI is generally supported by a short form, completed by a hospital consultant, GP or specialist nurse.
I know supporting those nearing the end of their lives is a priority for the Government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has conducted a wide ranging evaluation which considered the views of claimants and clinicians on how it supports those nearing the end of their lives. The evaluation covered three areas. Firstly, hearing directly from claimants and charities about their first-hand experiences. Secondly, considering international evidence to find out what works in other nations and the support they provide. Finally, reviewing current DWP performance to better understand how Special Rules for Terminal Illness process operates and performs.
Having spoken with colleagues at the DWP I understand that key themes arising from the evaluation include the desire to change the 6 month rule, the need to improve consistency with other services and the importance of raising awareness of the support that is available. I know that my colleagues at DWP and across government are committed to ensuring those nearing the end of their lives get the vital support they need and I will continue to follow this important matter closely.
Now that we have left the EU and taken back full control of our laws, the Government has been clear that there will be no reduction in workers’ rights. The Working Time Directive has been transposed into UK law through the Working Time Regulations 1998, and under the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 these and other Regulations have been retained.
The regulations provide that, subject to certain exceptions where the nature of the work makes it impractical, employees cannot work more than 48 hours a week averaged, normally, over a period of 17 weeks. It is possible for employees to opt out of this provision voluntarily and in writing, either indefinitely or for a specified period. Employers can request that an employee opts out but cannot terminate their employment or treat them unfairly if they decline.
Ultimately, the UK has one of the best records on workers’ rights in the world, going further than the EU in many areas, and I am determined to build on this progress.
Scope Campaign for Disabled
It troubles me that so many people with disabilities feel forgotten during this crisis. As well as addressing this, we must ensure rights are not diminished, and look for opportunities to change things for the better, for good.
Having read the Scope report in detail, I learnt of much worthwhile work. As well as ensuring those who feel forgotten are aware of this work, we must look for gaps and further opportunities. I am aware that my ministerial colleagues are also aware of the report.
Regarding welfare, the Government acted quickly to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability related benefits while also extending award periods, giving people peace of mind that their benefit payments would continue. I am encouraged that ministers are protecting the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms due to their pre-existing health conditions.
My view is that measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary and proportionate to the threat we face. It is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the public health emergency. Local authorities are still expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period, and the legislation does not remove the duty of care towards an individual's risk of serious neglect or harm. The legislation must not be used as cover for negating basic duties.
Trades Union Congress Petition on Key Workers
“The Government is committed to supporting the lowest paid workers for their hard work and valuable contribution to the economy. The introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) has delivered the fastest pay rise for the lowest earners in 20 years.
I am glad that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, pledged to raise the NLW further, to two-thirds of median earnings. This is expected to be £10.50 by 2024, making the UK the first major economy in the world to set such an ambition. This rise in the National Living Wage will be especially important for those whose incomes have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I also look forward to seeing the recommendations for 2021’s minimum wage rates from the independent Low Pay Commission in the Autumn.
While not suitable for everyone, I believe that zero-hour contracts have a part to play in a modern, flexible labour market because, for a small proportion of the workforce, that may be the kind of contract that is right for them. Two-thirds of workers on these contracts do not want more hours.
However, it is important to make sure that those benefitting from the flexibility of these contracts are not exploited by unscrupulous employers and I welcome that action has been taken in this regard. In 2015, the Government legislated to ban exploitative zero hours arrangements meaning it is now illegal for employers to include exclusivity clauses in these contracts.”
IR35 (Off payroll working rules)
The fair tax treatment of individuals working across the labour market is a well-established principle of the UK tax system. The off-payroll working rules are designed to ensure that where two people are working in the same way, but one is directly employed and one is working through a company, broadly the same amount of tax is paid. Without these rules there is nothing to prevent employers moving employees off-payroll simply to avoid paying employment taxes.
However, the cost of non-compliance with these rules is set to reach £1.3 billion per year by 2023/24 if not addressed. This is an unsustainable cost that is borne by taxpayers up and down the country. This reform will improve compliance by moving responsibility for determining whether the rules apply from a contractor’s limited company to their client. This is not a new tax but a transfer of responsibilities within the existing rules.
This reform has been in place in the public sector since 2017. Unless this reform is also introduced in the private sector, a disparity of treatment will continue, potentially leading to recruitment and retention difficulties in the public sector and unfairness for contractors working for public sector clients.
Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill:
I sympathise with anyone who have been made redundant or who is currently facing redundancy, particularly during this already challenging time. The Government is doing all it can to save as many jobs as possible but regrettably, it is not possible to save every job.
The Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Private Members’ Bill, which failed to complete its passage in the previous Parliament, was re-introduced on 8 July 2020 by Mrs Maria Miller MP. I understand that the Bill seeks to further protect employees from being made redundant as a result of being pregnant or on maternity leave. I understand that its Second Reading is scheduled to be on 16 October and I look forward to hearing more on this important issue.
There are some circumstances in which an employee who is pregnant or on maternity could legally be made redundant, and these include if the businesses closes down either temporarily or permanently, if the business moves and the employee cannot get to the new premises, or if fewer employees are required for existing work.
However, the law is very clear, if an employee is made redundant because she is pregnant or on maternity leave, this is unfair dismissal and also pregnancy/maternity discrimination. If this is the case, an employee should check their rights online (https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights) and if necessary take their case forward to an employment tribunal.
Impact of Coronavirus on Disabled People
It troubles me that so many people with disabilities feel forgotten during this crisis. As well as addressing this, we must ensure rights are not eroded and also look for opportunities to improve things for good. I have brought Scope’s report to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government Equalities Office. As well as ensuring those who feel forgotten are aware of this, we must look for gaps and further opportunities.
Local authorities are providing support to those people on the National Shielding List in the form of essential grocery supplies and social contact. People who are shielding are also entitled to priority supermarket delivery slots and medicine delivery. The list is maintained by the National Shielding Service. If you are not on the list and think you should be, there are details on the gov.uk website advising you how to register (either online or by phone). You can also register via your local council website. This information is available at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable and on the NHS website here: https://digital.nhs.uk/coronavirus/shielded-patient-list.
Regarding welfare, the Government acted quickly to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits while also extending award periods, giving people peace of mind that their benefit payments would continue. I am encouraged that Ministers are protecting the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk of severe coronavirus symptoms due to their pre-existing health conditions.
My view is that measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary and proportionate to the threat we face. It is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the public health emergency. Local authorities will still be expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period, and the legislation does not remove the duty of care towards an individual's risk of serious neglect or harm. The legislation must not be used as cover for negating basic duties.
I am incredibly grateful for the commitment and selflessness of key and public sector workers who have kept people safe and ensured vital services could continue over the last few months. Last year, a number of those working in the public sector received above inflation pay rises. This included most members of the armed forces who received a 2.9 per cent increase, teachers and school staff who received a 2.75 per cent rise and police officers at 2.5 per cent. This was the biggest public sector pay rise for six years.
Following constructive negotiations between NHS employers and trade unions, a new deal will see a 6.5 per cent pay rise over three years for one million NHS nurses, midwifes and other Agenda for Change workers. Those on the lowest salaries in the NHS will see some of the largest proportionate pay rises: the lowest NHS starting salary will increase year on year from £15,404 to £18,005 in 2020/2021. Many nurses and healthcare assistants will enjoy pay increases of at least 25 per cent.
I understand the argument for increasing public sector pay in recognition of public servants’ efforts, and I want to make it clear that there are no plans to freeze public sector pay, contrary to some media reports. Public sector pay is kept under constant review, and I will impress upon the Chancellor the need for the efforts of workers to be properly recognised.
Diabetes in the Workplace
Protecting lives remains the main priority for the Government. Safety will always come first and that is why approximately 2.5 million have been asked to shield themselves, as they are most at risk of needing hospital treatment if they were to contract Covid-19. Clinically vulnerable people have been asked to follow the rules on social distancing particularly stringently.
If someone is shielding, which can be for various reasons including age or medical condition, their employer is expected to make every effort to enable them to work from home. If they are unable to work from home, they should discuss their options with their employer. It could be that an employer may be able to offer different types of leave, different working patterns or perhaps a different role.
There are several support schemes available to businesses who are struggling during this crisis, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. These schemes are designed to support both employers and employees and to protect jobs.
It is important to state that employees have protection against unfair dismissal and, if they believe they have been unfairly dismissed, which could possibly be on the grounds of discrimination, they should contact the Employment Tribunal. Further details can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunals.
While businesses can only re-open in accordance with Covid-19 Secure guidelines, which does include a risk assessment, if someone has been advised to shield then they should continue to follow this medical advice.
Face-to face Benefits Assessments
“I want to see as straightforward and sensitive an assessment process as possible. As a member of the DWP Select Committee, my role is to scrutinise processes such as face-to-face assessment, so I can assure you that this is something of which I am aware and which I will continue to follow closely.
I recognise that individuals with mental health conditions face particular challenges in the application and assessment process for benefits. Special provisions are in place to support people with a mental health condition in making a claim. For example, individuals may bring a relative, carer or friend to the assessment. I also understand that all health professionals carrying out disability assessments receive specific training in assessing mental health conditions.
The pauses to face-to-face assessments were brought in to safeguard the public and staff, and in recognition of the need for DWP staff to focus on the processing of new claims. I have been reassured by my colleagues in DWP that they are currently reviewing these measures in light of the latest public health advice and will confirm next steps as soon as possible.”
Thank you for contacting me about British Airways and COVID-19, and I do appreciate that this must be an uncertain and worrying time for British Airways staff and their families.
I would encourage airlines to make full use of the unprecedented support made available by the Government to assist with wages and financing. Support is on offer through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (which has now been extended until the end of October), the Time to Pay scheme, the Bank of England's Covid Corporate Financing Facility and other schemes.
The Government has also taken action to help airlines specifically in dealing with the financial pressures they are currently facing. For example, the UK voted in favour of giving airlines the ability to defer payment of charges for European air navigation services for February-May 2020, for 14 months. Given that in February alone the UK's ten largest airlines would have been expected to pay a total of £47.2 million for flights in European airspace, this deferral should go some way to help airlines manage their current financial burdens.
I know that the Government is also in regular contact with airlines, including British Airways. Rest assured that I am monitoring the situation very closely and listening to the views of those here in our constituency. I will convey the concerns fed back to me to my Ministerial colleagues.
State Pension Overseas
The UK State Pension is payable worldwide and is uprated abroad where there is a legal requirement to do so. In some countries, however, there is no agreement with the UK for securing the social security rights of people moving between the two countries. As a result, pensioners who move to these countries still receive the State Pension but do not have their payments uprated as they would be for UK residents. The Department for Work and Pensions endeavours to make this clear to those thinking of moving abroad and publishes guidance on its website.
It has been and remains the policy of successive governments not to enter into new agreements with countries or territories where this would include up-rating pensions in order to contain the long-term cost of the UK social security system.
I appreciate that this response will be disappointing, but it represents the continuation of well-established policy.