Five questions answered on the first appointed supermarket ombudsman

Christine Tacon named.

The first ever Groceries Code Adjudicator (supermarket ombudsman) has been named today as Christine Tacon. We answer five questions on this newly created post.

What authority will the new supermarket ombudsman hold?

As the first ever Groceries Code Adjudicator Ms Tacon will have the power to investigate anonymous tip-offs from suppliers, name and shame or even fine supermarkets that breach the groceries supply code of practice.

In general, she will police the groceries supply code of practice, which was put in place in 2010 to ensure the top ten supermarkets do not abuse their relationships with suppliers.

What are Ms Tacon’s credentials for the job?

Ms Tacon has a long history working in the food industry. She previously worked at the Co-operative's farming unit for 11 years, as well as holding positions at Mars, Vodafone and Anchor.

She currently holds a number of non-executive positions in the agriculture sector and is chair of the BBC’s rural affairs advisory committee.

About her new post she has said:

"I am honoured to have been given the chance to make a permanent and enduring difference to the groceries sector.

"Coming from a commercial background, I am sure that if we can increase trust between retailers and their direct suppliers, it will lead to greater efficiency and can only have a beneficial impact on the rest of the supply chain."

Why has the government decided to hire a supermarket ombudsman now?

The idea for a supermarket ombudsman was first suggested in 2008 by the Competition Commission as a way to solve disputes between supermarkets and suppliers.

At the time, a two year review of the supermarkets by the Competition Commission resulted in the criticism of the exclusivity arrangements often signed between supermarket chains and their suppliers.

When will Ms Tacon take up her post and how much will she be paid?
Before the role can become official parliament needs to pas the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill later in the year. Until then she will act as "Adjudicator-Designate".

Ms Tacon will be paid £69,000 per year for her job working over three days a week.

What have government officials said about the creation of this new post?

Consumer and Competition Minister, Jo Swinson, said:

“I congratulate Christine Tacon on her appointment as Groceries Code Adjudicator. This is an incredibly important position in the retail groceries sector making sure that large supermarkets treat their suppliers fairly and lawfully.

“Ms Tacon has a wide range of experience in the food, retail and farming industry and her appointment is a real milestone. Her knowledge of the sector will be of huge benefit, and I’m sure will be crucial in making the Groceries Code Adjudicator a positive and powerful contributor to the groceries industry.”

Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“This is a welcome change of policy from the Government, which was called for by the Select Committee and Opposition team in the debate on the Bill. It is also perfectly consistent with the approach taken by the Government in securing as much pre-legislative scrutiny as possible.

“The Select Committee spent many hours taking evidence on this issue and will examine the suitability of the proposed candidate against this evidence and the recommendations it made.”

The first ever Groceries Code Adjudicator has been named. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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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.