No Tory support for proposed bill to outlaw ‘unpaid trial’ work periods

Chris McQuade

Tory MPs ‘a bit sniffy’ about proposed Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill

SNP MP Stewart McDonald has been given no support from any Tory MPs as he launches his private members’ bill to stop unpaid trial shifts in the workplace in the House of Commons this morning.

McDonald will propose the Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill as he bids to stop employers offering trials to potential employees who are not paid for any work carried out. The practice, common in the hospitality sector, can see some people work for up to 40 hours only to be told they have not been successful in gaining full-time employment.

McDonald sought backing for his proposed bill from cross-party members to reach the maximum of 11 sponsors in support for the bill and has enlisted MPs from Scottish Labour and Lady Hermon, an independent unionist from Northern Ireland.

Speaking to CommonSpace, McDonald said he got a different response when he approached some Tory MPs. He said: “I asked around some Tories who I thought would be sympathetic, just based on my own experience of them, and they were all kind of a bit sniffy about it. The odd thing is, and to be fair this is quite strange, you’re asking people to sponsor a bill that you haven’t actually written yet, which strikes me as kind of odd.

“When I was talking to other parties and other MPs trying to get support, some of the Tories were saying ‘I can’t support an outright ban’. They’re saying if it’s [working for] four hours in a café [unpaid], they think that’s fine.

“My view is it’s four hours you should get paid for.” Stewart McDonald MP

“So, I suspect there is going to be a debate around that, which is good.”

Ian Murray, Martin Whitfield (both Labour), Christine Jardine (Liberal Democrat) and Caroline Lucas (Green) have all lent support to the proposed legislation.

McDonald was keen to stress he is not against all types of unpaid work, but said he believed unpaid trials amounted to the exploitation of a workforce who are not normally represented by a union or have any other type of legal representation

The other aspect McDonald emphasised was that people on benefits who accepted trial periods should be exempt from having to re-apply for benefits should they be unsuccessful in gaining employment after having to declare earnings with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP.)

McDonald said: “I have to make sure that there are schedules in the bill which protect people who are in receipt of state benefits who are asked to go on a trial shift. My objective is not to leave people financially worse off or to force people to have to go through the bureaucracy of re-applying for benefits if they don’t get the job that they’ve had to come off to do the trial shift.

“What I’m keen not to stray into is things like work experience and volunteering, I think those are fine.” Stewart McDonald MP

“So, I’m mindful that there are some things there that need to be looked at carefully. The entire purpose of the bill is to give people wage protection and security, because at the minute its costing people money to get there and back particularly if you’re doing that over the period of a week.”

McDonald added that the DWP doesn’t keep records of trial shifts, making it difficult to “quantify” the scale of the practice. He believes “millions and millions” are being lost by employees as a result of unpaid trial shifts.

STUC and the Better Than Zero campaign have been recruited by McDonald to help draft the bill before he takes it to parliamentary clerks for the “legalistic, technical” drafting. McDonald told CommonSpace the bill is 12th in a queue and the second reading will be on 16 March 2018.

Picture courtesy of YouTube

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