§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend enactments relating to health, safety and other working conditions of employees to the trainees on Government schemes; and for connected purposes.The Government plan to incarcerate 500,000 young people in the "educational dustbins" of the youth training scheme. So far, 250,000 youngsters are in placements. The House will be well aware of Labour Members' opposition to the job substitution, the artificial reduction of the dole figures, the cheapening of youth wages and the inadequate provision for proper health and safety cover that have so far characterised in such schemes.
My Bill intends to remedy such problems. Its central aim is to change the status of trainees to that of employees. Since the inception of the general training schemes for unemployed school leavers, 79 fatalities have been recorded. Several of those deaths occurred in places of work that had not received any prior inspection by qualified health and safety or factory inspectors.
Trainees on the Government's youth training scheme, and its forerunner the youth opportunities programme, are at a greater risk of being killed or of suffering a major injury than workers in all but four of the most dangerous occupations: mining, shipbuilding, construction and metal manufacture. A major injury consists of a fracture of the skull, spine, or pelvis, the main bone of an arm or leg, amputation of a hand or foot, the loss of sight in an eye, or any injury that requires hospital treatment for more than 24 hours.
I believe that the most crucial task facing the Conservative Government, and the one that they have most spectacularly failed to accomplish, is the provision of genuine work for the unemployed. The youth training scheme was inaugurated as a cosmetic exercise to massage the dole figures, generally lower the level of young workers' wages and to introduce a year of social control in an attempt to forestall a repetition of the events of the summer of 1981. That statement on the reduction of youth wages is borne out by the remarks made by the Minister for unemployment in last Thursday's debate, to the effect that since 1979 the ratio of youth to adult wages had fallen by 10 per cent. for boys and more than 10 per cent. for girls. That fulfils the predictions made by the former Secretary of State for Employment the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) when he said that the task was to "price youngsters into jobs."
Despite the well-intentioned efforts of those workers charged at local level with making the scheme work, 1.2 million people aged under 25 are already out of work. Two out of every three graduating from the youth training scheme can expect to join them. Creating the best-trained dole queue in Europe is no real achievement. The jobs just do not exist in which to use those skills. Attempting to hide the real lack of jobs is playing at "Elastoplast politics"
For the 250,000 16 and 17-year-olds in placement on the youth training scheme, the conditions of the scheme leave loopholes through which unscrupulous employers can organise exploitation. The vast majority of trainees on the youth training scheme are employed neither by the 732 company providing the training nor by the Manpower Services Commission. In consequence, the trainees do not have the full protection of all the legislation designed to protect the health, safety and other working conditions of employees generally. They are not employed, unemployed or students. All the punitive trappings of employment are there without legislative protection.
The trainees are paid an allowance of £25 for a 40-hour week, which can be docked for bad behaviour or poor time-keeping. They can be suspended or sacked without redress and at the end of the year two thirds of them are unceremoniously put back in the dole queue. The central aim of the Bill will be to change the status of working trainees to that of employees, and, by so doing, to extend existing protection given to employed workers to those on youth training schemes.
The Government recently partially extended to trainees some of the provisions affecting employed workers. Sadly, that was not done through the Government's initiative. It has taken pressure from bodies within the trade union movement, youth campaign groups and the families of trainees to produce the changes. A ruling of the employment appeals tribunal on 22 October 1982 confirmed the lack of employee status under the Race Relations Act 1976. Trainees were judged not to have the protection against discrimination given by that Act to employees. Nine months later, in July 1983, the Minister of State, Department of Employment recognised the anomaly by issuing designation orders under section 13 of the Race Relations Act 1976, as well as under section 14 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. He thus extended to trainees the full protection given by those Acts.
It appears that moves have at last been made to introduce a similar procedure for safety, but it is too little and too late. Having nine part-time safety advisers to keep watch over YTS will not prevent deaths, such as that of a young boy in Sheffield who was caught in the blades of a paper shredder, or the death of a young boy in Coatbridge who was given paraffin to clean a machine and was burned to death. In Blaenau Gwent, a young lad was caught in a machine that was about to flatten insulation material.
Sections 52 and 53 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, by their definition of the terms "work", "at work", and "employee", specifically exclude those under a contract of training with the youth training schemes. Following considerable public disquiet at the rate of fatalities on training schemes in major industries, the Health and Safety Commission only today published a consultative document containing draft proposals for regulations to give trainees on YTS the same coverage as employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Those regulations should be in force at the beginning of 1984. My Bill, however, would remove the necessity for the Government to respond periodically in such a piecemeal fashion by automatically giving trainees the same protection as the current legislation for employees. In addition, the number of deaths and serious accidents clearly demonstrates a need for mandatory inspection of any work place by trained safety personnel before a trainee is to be set on.
In my correspondence this morning, I received a letter from a former training instructor who described his training school as follows:The roof leaked, a spray painting booth operated without an extraction system. There were no trained first aid staff, and there was a first aid box without plasters. The electric trunking was 733 bare and uncovered, and there was no heating. Sanitary conditions consisted of two wash-basins and one WC for 36 trainees and three staff.Labour Members will continue to pursue the Government over conditions on youth training schemes. We shall campaign for youth trainees not to be placed by the Manpower Services Commission at factories that are not registered under the Factories Act 1971. All employers will be required to produce an effective safety policy before they are allowed to take on youth trainees.
Youth trainees suffering injury or sickness should be legally entitled to state sickness benefit and industrial disablement benefits. Special attention should be paid to youth trainees in the accident statistics collected under the Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1980. MSC link officers should have improved training in health and safety, and should have direct contact with factory inspectors before approving schemes. They should give priority to visiting premises where youth trainees have been placed. Youth trainees should not be required to accept places under threat of loss of unemployment benefit when they consider that there is an unacceptable risk to their health and safety.
Finally, experience has demonstrated that fines against employers responsible for conditions leading to major accidents are too low to be seriously effective as a deterrent. Solid trade union organisation at the workplace is the only guarantee of daily, successful monitoring of workers' health and safety, and will in many cases provide a necessary starting point for effective application of safety laws.
I welcome, therefore, the initiatives of the trade union movement to recruit trainees from the ranks of organised labour. Their intervention will be necessary to persuade employers to convert YTS places into permanent jobs at the end of the scheme, and to achieve topping up of allowances to the rate for apprentices and prevent the exploitation at which unscrupulous employers prove so adept.
Despite Government protestations to the contrary, YTS cannot create jobs for youngsters, except in so far as it reduces the level of youth wages and splits wages for apprenticeships into two or more low-paid jobs. It is not a solution to youth unemployment. For that, we need a change of Government and a change of the ownership and control of wealth and production.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. Terry Fields, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mr. Eddie Loyden, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Roland Boyes, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. John Evans, Ms Jo Richardson and Mr. Dennis Canavan.