Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. This shocking NHS bill is without sense or mandate (Guardian)

The Lords should be affronted by the slipshod way our health system is being blown apart, before they can even debate it, writes Polly Toynbee.

2. Visionary, genius, game-changer ... but also a freak (Financial Times)

Steve Jobs could be PT Barnum one minute, banging the drum for a new operating system, and a sweet sixties hippie the next, guilelessly quoting Beatles lyrics, says Philip Delves Broughton.

3. Is Vladimir Putin's Eurasian dream worth the effort? (Guardian)

The Russian prime minister's union plan is not meant as a return to the Soviet past, but he would do well to check precedent, suggests Mark Mazower.

4. Gay marriage is not as simple as David Cameron believes (Daily Telegraph)

Government diktat should not be used to alter the basics of human society, writes Charles Moore.

5. The fight against climate change is down to us - the 99 per cent (Guardian)

Our movement differs from previous anti-globalisation protests, says Naomi Klein. To change society's values we must stay together for years.

6. France's battle to understand banks and banlieues (Financial Times)

French political leaders have still not learnt to think in new terms, argues Christopher Caldwell

7. All I get on the BBC these days is ... the BBC (Daily Telegraph)

From Desert Island Discs to PM to its own cuts, the Beeb is obsessed with itself, says Vicki Woods.

8. Get back on the maple-leaf road to recovery (Times) (£)

Canada and the conquest of debt once topped Cameron's reading list. But he has failed to follow the plot, writes Philip Collins.

9. Dave's posh, Ed's weird: which will be the bigger liability at the polls? (Independent)

Cameron and Miliband can change their policies, but they cannot change who they are, argues Andrew Grice.

10. Women's rights in, before troops out (Times) (£)

We cannot leave Afghanistan if half its population faces a future of virtual slavery, says Marielle Frostrup.

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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.