Support for George Osborne continues to fall away

The CBI chief, John Cridland, and the Pimco MD, Bill Gross, are the latest figures to stress the urg

First, it was the IMF that deserted George Osborne. Now, it's the CBI and the founder of the world's biggest bond fund.

John Cridland, the CBI chief, argued in a recent interview that Osborne needs to "step up a gear" and deliver a growth plan for 2012 before it is too late. The CBI is also apparently about to scale back its growth forecast for 2011.

"Times have got tougher and we need more action. It's time to get moving; extra gear, more urgency, more action," said Cridland. "It's no good having a growth review focusing on five years' time; we ain't got five years. It's about growth over the next 12 months," he claimed colourfully in an interview in the Financial Times on 5 September. Dead on.

Cridland and I were on the Today programme a little while ago, discussing what could be done to stimulate growth and he seemed an entirely sensible and honourable man. In his interview today, Cridland expressed support for stoking up infrastructure spending in transport, power stations and housing; which is clearly a good idea and I will definitely back him on that. I'm also extremely pleased that, today, Cridland has come out in support of my suggestion that the government should cut National Insurance contributions for employers hiring young people. I am happy to back him on this. The hundreds of thousands of unemployed youngsters are also grateful. Thanks John. These are good ideas that will get the economy moving, although I don't support his view that the 50p tax rate should be scrapped. That would increase inequality and simply look so unfair to those who are struggling to survive in this awful recession. Relative things matter.

Then, in an interview in the Times on 5 September, the managing director of Pimco, Bill Gross, argued that:

The economy in the UK is worse off than it was when the plan was developed, so there should be at a minimum fine-tuning and perhaps re-routing of the plan . . . the problem becomes if it is too quick and swift and leads to an economic contraction, which it appears close to doing in the UK. Bond investors obviously want not just low inflation but some type of positive growth. An economy that doesn't grow, like Japan, ultimately can't resolve its debt crisis, either.

I do recall that long list of people that Osborne was so pleased to trot out, saying that everyone supported him. Those who didn't, he claimed, were "deficit deniers". Where are his supporters now? Long gone as the economy tanks.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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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.