Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Can Labour promise real choice on economy in 2015? (Independent)

With the next election still two years away, Ed Miliband will keep much of his powder dry a while yet, says an Independent editorial. But pressure is building.

2. George Osborne's case for austerity has just started to wobble (Guardian)

With the IMF and Osborne's favourite economists revising their figures, the pro-cuts argument now lacks intellectual support, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Small solutions should be Miliband’s big idea (Times

One Nation is just a slogan, writes Philip Collins. If Labour looks after the everyday issues everyone will know what it stands for.

4. Will Gove’s schools revolution be just another false start? (Daily Telegraph)

There are encouraging signs of real progress, but Labour may have other ideas in 2015, writes Fraser Nelson.

5. Obama and gun control: no, we can't (Guardian)

If ever Obama must be tempted to bypass Capitol Hill and rule by executive order, it must be now, says a Guardian editorial.

6. The Japanese PM's 'Abenomics' is a revolution that might not change anything at all (Independent)

After more than 20 years in recession ritual persists in Japan, and for most  people life moves along on fixed rails, writes Peter Popham. 

7. Germany should face the German question (Financial Times)

Berlin must show willing to carry the responsibilities of power, writes Philip Stephens.

8. The Boston bombs show how the internet turned kitchen utensils into weapons of terror (Daily Telegraph)

The blood spilled at Monday's marathon attacks is a reminder of how easy it is to build a deadly weapon, says Con Coughlin. 

9. Michael Gove's disdain for experts is typical of the laissez-faire ideologues (Guardian)

Consultation on the new curriculum is closed but no matter, writes David Preistland. Gove, like the rest of his government, will do what he believes in.

10. Thatcher was right – there is no ‘society’ (Financial Times)

Aid for the poor, or distressed regions, must come from the citizens of the country concerned, argues Samuel Brittan.

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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.