EXCL MPs' staff demand greater workplace protections under next Commons Speaker

Posted On: 
27th October 2019

MPs' staff have called on John Bercow's successor to end a "fundamentally flawed" system that can see them stripped of their sick pay if they change jobs.

The open letter is signed by more than 170 staff working for MPs.
Credit: 
PA

An open letter signed by more than 170 current and former staffers working across the House of Commons urges all nine candidates vying to be the next Speaker to axe a system which some fear risks emboldening bullying MPs and limiting the career prospects of talented aides.

Commons authorities currently treat MPs as individual employers, meaning that staff who change jobs to work for another member are viewed as new starters.

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That results in the clock being reset on any entitlement to sick pay and maternity leave that they have built up while working in Parliament - even if they have been employed in the Commons for years.

But the coalition of staffers is warning that this curbs promotion prospects - and can even force some to keep working for MPs who have bullied or harassed them.

The letter - shared with The House magazine and PoliticsHome - urges all nine hopefuls to commit to tackling the "unfair system of penalising staffers who move from one MP's office to another".

"Whilst we understand that employment rights need to be built up, the unique environment in the House of Commons means that any moves between MP's offices, as part of natural career progression, wipes our employment history clean," they say.

"This means we lose our sickness, redundancy and maternity/paternity rights with every move. This stops some people applying to get experience with another MP or applying for promotion.

"We are also in the same position if our MP retires loses his/her position, or we leave because of 'difficulties' within the office that our outside of our control."

The signatories raise the case of one researcher who lost the sick pay entitlement she had built up just four weeks before a cancer diagnosis because she had moved to work for another MP - despite more than three years of previous service in the Commons.

They say that change in status ended up "exacerbating an already distressing experience" for the aide.

And they add: "We believe this is wrong; we should enjoy the same rights as any other person in the UK who moves within an organisation. And we ask you to commit to addressing this fundamental flaw in our system if elected as Speaker."

'HOUSE IN ORDER'

That view was echoed by Labour MP Justin Madders, who urged the next Speaker to focus on "getting our own house in order".

He told PoliticsHome: "It's pretty common for people to move between MPs. It might be for career advancement, but also, sadly, quite often for reasons of bullying or harassment they have to move on.

"And what we've seen is that people can have a number of years of employment in Parliament but, actually in terms of their protections - for example, for sick pay or maternity pay - it's as if they're a new starter.

"And if we're trying to say to the world that they should be looking after the people that work for them in a responsible way, we really ought to be getting our own house in order.

"And that means that people who, for all intents and purposes, have worked in Parliament for X number of years shouldn't be treated as new starters if they've moved between jobs."

The former shadow minister said the current method of employing aides had led to "real injustices" for staff who had moved jobs, including some who had been "left high and dry in terms of sick pay even though they've been working on the Parliamentary estate for a number of years".

"I don't think that is a responsible duty of care to our staff," he warned.

And Mr Madders said the issue could be tackled through a "small tweak" to the standard staff contracts currently drawn up by MPs' watchdog Ipsa.

"It could be big shake up if you wanted it to be - but you could also just actually say: anyone who's employed on the Parliamentary estate is deemed, for the purposes of contractual benefits such as sick pay, redundancy pay or notice pay, to be continuously employed," he said.

The demand from MPs' aides comes after trade unions representing Commons staff called on all nine Speaker candidates to end what they condemned as "inaction" on Westminster's bullying scandal.

Voting to choose the next Speaker gets underway on 4 November, with Mr Bercow set to step down at the end of October.

Those hoping to occupy the Speaker's chair when he steps aside include Labour MPs Harriet Harman, Chris Bryant, Meg Hillier, Lindsay Hoyle, and Rosie Winterton. Meanwhile Conservatives Edward Leigh, Henry Bellingham, Shailesh Vara and Eleanor Laing have all put their names forward.