The Barclays scandal is a chance for Miliband to show leadership

The Labour leader most move swiftly to articulate public anger.

The time for "remorse" is over, Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond told MPs in January 2011. It turns out it wasn't. The revelation that Barclays repeatedly manipulated interest rates in a bid to increase its profits means that there is much remorse to come. The latest corporate scandal, combined with the ongoing crisis at the RBS-owned Natwest, should make banker-bashing an Olympic sport among politicians.

Labour has rightly called for a criminal investigation into Barclays, with former city minister Paul Myners accurately observing on Newsnight: "This behaviour will only change if people face the prospect of criminal charges." The sense, however, is that most in Westminster are waiting to see how many others banks are implicated - Lloyds and RBS are both under investigation - before showing their hand. With the exception of the Lib Dems' Matthew Oakeshott, Vince Cable's representative on earth, no senior politician has called for Diamond to resign.

Soon, however, the voters will be demanding answers. On tonight's Question Time, you can expect the audience to ask two questions: "why has no one resigned?" and "why hasn't a single banker gone to jail?" The mere announcement that Diamond, presciently described by Peter Mandelson several years ago as the "unacceptable face of banking", and other top executives will not accept bonuses this year (while retaining handsome basic salaries) will do nothing to sate public outrage. And rightly so. As Labour's Chuka Umunna notes on Twitter, "LIBOR is used to calculate interest rates for SME loans, student loans, credit cards etc - manipulation of it would affect most people".

So here is another opportunity for Ed Miliband to show political leadership as he did during the phone-hacking scandal and the row over Stephen Hester's bonus. On such occasions, where Miliband has led, Cameron has followed. If he is to set the political pace again, Miliband should use his speech to Unite's conference to call for Diamond to resign and for a criminal investigation into Barclays. 

Update: As I predicted, Miliband used his speech at Unite's conference to call for "criminal prosecutions" against anyone at Barclays who broke the law, although he did not call for Diamond to consider his position. See my post here for the full quote.

Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond has resisted calls for his resignation. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.