Siobhain speaks against pay cuts during Christmas Adjournment debate

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21 December 2016

christmas adj Siobhain has used the Christmas Adjournment debate to highlight the low-paid workers receiving a pay cut this Christmas - and to express solidarity with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan

You can read the speech below, or watch it here

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)

I call Siobhain McDonagh—and Buster.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. By now, hon. Members may have seen my break into the music industry with “National Living Rage”, a Christmas song that I recorded with a number of Labour Members last week. Derided by some, adored by others—my mum—I am delighted that the song has had its desired effect of generating national attention for the serious issue of pay cuts. It has had 40,000 hits on YouTube and been laughed at on everything from “Daily Politics” to Channel 4’s “The Last Leg”, but it has got a serious message out in the public domain by humorous means.

These cuts are being made by some good employers who have made a bad decision when it comes to older, long-standing staff. I want to take a moment to consider the tens of thousands of workers who face a pay cut this Christmas—those families who have to bear the pressure of selling their house or finding another job just to make ends meet. Christmas should be a time of good will to all men and women, but a disappointing roll call of employers are being scrooges this year. Instead of delivering presents, they are serving their loyal, long-standing staff with pay cuts and notices. From B&Q to Marks & Spencer, 2 Sisters Food Group, Waitrose, Caffè Nero and EAT, good employers are getting it wrong, using the introduction of a higher statutory minimum wage as an opportunity to cut total staff pay.

No one in this House should be under any illusion that this is some sort of niche issue—on the contrary, it is affecting residents in every constituency across the country. It is estimated that about 11,000 of the iconic high-street retailer Marks & Spencer’s total workforce of 83,000 would be negatively impacted in some way by pay cuts—that is 13% of the workforce adversely affected, almost all of whom are on pre-2002 contracts. Some 2,700 workers will lose more than £1,000 a year, and 700 will lose more than £2,000 a year. Approximately more than half a million people in the retail, restaurant and food manufacturing industries will receive a pay cut—that is about 13% of the total number of workers in those industries. Many of the companies involved are high-street names with historically good reputations, but they have made some terrible errors of judgment. It is not too late for them to change their minds, and I am asking all of them to reverse their decisions to cut staff pay at their January board meetings. Should those companies not change their minds, I hope the Government will step in and salvage their policy for all workers.

I have seen evidence that proves that many other companies are planning the same sort of pay cuts in the coming year. The chair of John Lewis, Sir Charlie Mayfield, stated in a private meeting earlier this year his intention to review the partnership’s “historic premium pay arrangements”, which he said were not in keeping with John Lewis’s competitors. We know what the John Lewis Partnership’s competitors are doing, so clearly the “review” of “legacy payments” is just a euphemism for the cutting of pay for long-standing staff. We have already seen clear evidence of that in Waitrose’s decision earlier this year to take away paid breaks from new and existing staff. The House will appreciate my frustration when Sir Charlie emailed me to say that he no longer had any intention of meeting me today. Buster, the boxer from John Lewis’s heart-warming Christmas ad, and I are very sad not to have the opportunity to discuss John Lewis’s plans for pay cuts. Can we assume that the decision not to meet me is an admission of guilt on its part? I guess that Buster and I will not know for sure until those pay cuts are announced in the coming year.

If I am wrong about John Lewis, I will happily return to this House and publicly apologise. I will be delighted to be wrong about John Lewis—it is a great British business that got great through great customer service from well-treated staff, the sort of people whom the Prime Minister describes as those giving their best and putting in the effort. I am happy to apologise if I am wrong and I reiterate to Sir Charlie that I would be happy to meet him and discuss this important issue wherever and whenever he likes.

Having concentrated on unscrupulous employment practices, I know that corporate executives are watching every move in Parliament so, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to deliver a message to all those company CEOs and chairmen of boards. The campaign to ensure that no one in this country loses money as a result of the national living wage will continue into the new year, until every worker gets the pay that they so richly deserve. My colleagues and I will be writing to chairmen this week to ask for their contract changes to be reversed at the January board meetings.

I want to use these last few minutes to express my deep concern for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan and in this country.

There have been two worrying developments overseas. The first was a raid in Rabwah, where 16 fully armed policemen and 12 plain-clothed officers from three police vehicles forced entry into an Ahmadi office without a warrant, wounding and arresting four innocent Ahmadi men. The raid was unlawful and most likely ordered by the highest ranking officials in the Punjab province.

The second was the destruction of the historic Chakwal mosque, which was attacked by more than 1,000 people a week ago. Stones were pelted and the property was burnt to

“bring it under the influence of Islam.”

I need not remind hon. Members that Ahmadis are not allowed to define themselves as Muslim in Pakistan. I hope that all hon. Members will stand together to express their solidarity with the Ahmadi Muslim community and I ask the Foreign Secretary to do all he can to stand with the oppressed and persecuted Ahmadi people.

Finally, I wish all my constituents in Mitcham and Morden, all hon. Members and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a very merry Christmas and a peaceful new year.


Siobhain has also spoken in solidarity with the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, here: