The Fed is going to have scant and unreliable data to hand

Consequences of the shutdown.

"There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip". Shakespeare’s aphorism sums up very neatly the likelihood of a near term deal to get America’s government back to work and to raise the debt ceiling, which is officially due to expire on 17 October.

As I write, (Monday 14th), the talk is of a short-term bill which would do both, but the Republicans haven’t abandoned hopes that they can come out of all this having forced reductions in spending, (maybe even on Obamacare), and agreement to tax reform. Although they might send a so-called "clean bill" extending the debt ceiling to November 22nd to the Senate, which would be acceptable to the Senate and the President, they also want to tie agreement to re-opening the government, via a "continuing resolution" (CR), to a successful conclusion to the spending and tax negotiations. The President has said he won’t yield to threats and he’s unlikely to agree to negotiations without a "clean" CR, and Senate Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling until the end of 2014, but they insist that budget negotiations should be for another day.

Washington’s impasse can be having nothing but detrimental effects upon the real economy. Consumer sentiment is certainly taking a hit; the daily Rasmussen Survey of same has fallen off a cliff, falling to 92.8 yesterday, from 103.0 on 1st Oct. This takes us back to average readings last seen in November 2012.

As a result of the Federal shutdown the Fed is going to have scant and unreliable data to hand at best when it meets in December, having had next to nothing for the October meeting.

In addition to the new Chairman’s accession, the other change in January will be the annual rotation onto the FOMC of four new Regional Fed Presidents as voting members. Uncomfortably for the probable new Chairman, uber-dove Janet Yellen, the newcomers are of a distinctly more hawkish hue than those departing. On the other hand, one of the Governors of the Federal Reserve Board, (who are permanent FOMC voters for their full 14-year terms), Jerome H. Powell, leaves at end January, and he leans more towards hawkish judgements than dovish. The President will want to select a suitably dovish replacement, and we know the type of candidate that Yellen will propose if he consults her.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.