Miliband: gaffe or ploy?

Friendly fire caught on video, the police state plus booing Brown

Many bloggers have put their views of tabloid journalism aside this week to recognise the superb work done by Tom Newton Dunn, defence editor at the Sun, by getting hold of a video so crucial to the inquest of the British soldier Matty Hull.Roy Greenslade said: “It was some leak and I foresee awards galore for the reporter in the coming year.”

But Donal Blaney thought: “The video has already now begun to be used by anti-war activists in Britain and elsewhere to fan the already dangerous flames of anti-Americanism.”

What also caught the attention of bloggers was a statement by Dr Mohammad Naseem who says Britain is moving towards a police state. This came after the release of two of the men arrested last week under the Terrorism Act in Birmingham.

At Leninology there is certainly agreement with Dr Naseem expressed again by Abu Bakr on Newsnight. But Rob Newman suggests this should be put in perspective because it is “offensive to people all over the world living in fear of their governments.” Does he have a point?

Liberal Review draws attention to, Dr Sumaya Alyusuf, the principal of King Fahad Academy, an Islamic school in London which was accused this week of teaching religious hatred.

A comment left on the blog asked: “Why should an otherwise useful text book be withdrawn on the basis of one chapter that is not used in the classroom?”

Schools Minister, Jim Knight, has ordered an inquiry to assess if the school promotes tolerance and harmony as it is legally required to do.

Ellee Seymour saw the importance of the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday on the Freedom of Information Act. She says: “The Act has, in effect, been a victim of its own success - the government has had enough.”

An accurate analysis came from Martin Rosenbaum who raised a crucial point many are missing. Any defence of the Government’s proposal to charge people for the man hours needed to find a piece of information under the FOI Act does not address the larger issue.

The proposal to also include charging for time spent considering the exemptions and consulting others, is much more controversial and widely criticised than the suggestion to incorporate reading time.

Keeping you updated on all the latest FOI news is blogger, Steve Wood.

And I leave you with some news from the Environment Minister, David Miliband. On Question Time he said: "I bet in a year's time people will be calling for Tony Blair to come back and people will be booing Gordon Brown."

Caroline Hunt thinks it wasn't a 'gaffe' at all but: "an excusable slip to put the idea into people's brains that they should keep Blair for as long as possible." Sometimes people simply analyse too much. Or perhaps I should say not enough.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.