Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Green agenda is suffering under the Tories. Here's how we can put it back on the map (Independent)

The only way the environment is going to be forced back on the agenda is to make it a bread-and-butter issue: about jobs and living standards, says Owen Jones.

2. Newspapers are worth fighting for – even when they’re wrong (Daily Telegraph)

Our imperilled press has proved its value, says Boris Johnson. Don’t let over-regulation weaken it fatally.

3. Building blocks for America’s recovery (Financial Times)

Obama has recognised the inadequacy of demand as the main barrier to growth, writes Lawrence Summers.

4. Standing still isn’t enough. The EU needs cuts (Times) (£)

Europe must spend less and spend differently. But Britain has not put the case for reform, say Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander.

5. Another omnishambles – and this time it threatens me and my autistic son (Guardian)

The black hole of official indifference, now given official licence, threatens accountability and special needs provision, writes John Harris.

6. BBC’s Lord Smug has lost our Trust (Sun)

For all his experience, Chris Patten has mishandled this crisis from the moment it exploded, says Trevor Kavanagh.

7. The president struggles to convince (Financial Times)

If Barack Obama wants to win the election, he could do more to show it, says Edward Luce.

8. The hidden danger of milking the motorist (Daily Mail)

Ministers have to be sure they do not cost the country more in lost jobs and lower growth than they gain in revenue, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. Neither Keynes nor the market will save Labour (Guardian)

Ed Miliband needs a clear economic alternative, says Jackie Ashley. His emphasis should not be on regulating business, but on democratising it.

10. Time to kick tobacco's butt (Independent)

More must be done to regulate the promotion and sale of so incontrovertibly damaging a product, argues an Independent leader.

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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.