Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. America on the edge of a 'fiscal cliff'? No, it's the right peddling scare stories (Guardian)

The economic abyss is a distortion peddled by the US right and Obama's Democrats – just like Britain's left – need to counter the myth, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

2. The BBC can be brilliant - despite its shambolic army of suits and bean-counters (Daily Mail)

The corporation worked much better when it was much smaller, as it should now become again, writes Max Hastings.

3. Obama proves you can win in tough times (Times) (£)

On both sides of the Atlantic, voters want economic toughness and social liberalism, says George Osborne.

4. Police commissioner elections: hardly The Wire, but they still really matter (Guardian)

Not voting for a police and crime commissioner on Thursday means turning your back on the frightened and vulnerable, says Gaby Hinsliff.

5. The downfall of David Petraeus may be a blessing in disguise (Independent)

Obama now has more freedom to exert his will in the military sphere, writes Mary Dejevsky.

6. Let the public run our national broadcaster (Daily Telegraph)

The BBC can weather this storm if we eradicate its culture of moral smugness, says Tessa Jowell.

7. China and US navigate in risky waters (Financial Times)

The narrowing of the power gap between the two countries is already raising tensions, writes Gideon Rachman.

8. Osborne needs to show a little love to the squeezed middle (Daily Telegraph)

Reforming the 40p tax rate would reward those who have borne the brunt of austerity, writes Benedict Brogan.

9. Only when the BBC decides what it is for will it be able to regain trust (Independent)

The failures of Newsnight have nothing to do with budget cuts, writes Dominic Lawson. Even the least well-funded local newspaper would have done better than this.

10. Investigative journalism must live on despite the Newsnight crisis (Guardian)

The world would be a worse place without investigative journalism, but lack of funding is a real danger for this craft, writes David Leigh.

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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.