Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service yesterday in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband urges Cameron not to put profit before people over Russia

The Labour leader pressed Cameron on trade sanctions after a No. 10 document appeared to rule them out.

Today's PMQs will be regarded by most as one to forget. As expected, Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the Ukraine crisis (Labour's Jon Ashworth has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood regarding the Patrick Rock affair) and wisely struck a statesmanlike tone. Indeed, his last question wasn't actually a question but a commitment to offer the government Labour's "full support" at this "delicate and dangerous moment for international security".

Yet the consensual tone masked the potential for significant differences to emerge between Miliband and Cameron over how to punish Russia for its breach of sovereignty. Following the leak of extracts from a No. 10 document suggesting that "the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London's financial centre to Russians" (presumably because of the consequences for UK business), Miliband asked the PM what the UK would be tabling at the EU summit tomorrow and whether he was keeping open the option of sanctions. Cameron simply replied that there would be "costs and consequences" for Russia, but failed to offer any more detail.

Miliband then smartly reminded him of his tough talk during the invasion of Georgia in 2008, when he declared: "Russian armies can't march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges". Would he look at asset freezes and visa restrictions? The PM gave the stock answer that "nothing should be off the table" (a response which, nonetheless, contradicts the No. 10 document) and said he would be speaking to Barack Obama this afternoon. Whatever emerges from the talks, Miliband has made his stance clear: profit should not come before people.

It is also worth noting Miliband's emphasis on the importance of the EU in resolving the crisis. As with his call for action over climate change last week, this is an issue over which he can drive a wedge between Cameron and his backbenchers.

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.