Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. I’ll be voting to quit the EU (Times)

David Cameron’s attempts at renegotiation will be inconsequential – we must leave, writes Nigel Lawson.

2. The elite boast of little sleep, but it's those at the bottom who really suffer (Guardian)

Sleep proves how inequality touches even our most intimate lives – just ask those who toil for low pay with inadequate rest, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

3. David Cameron has two years left to summon up the spirit of 1992 (Daily Telegraph)

Despite the UKIP threat, the signs are growing that the PM can copy John Major’s upset, says Benedict Brogan.

4. Toxic smog smothers the Chinese dream (Financial Times)

Beijing may be ready to act over the country’s appalling pollution, writes Gideon Rachman.

5. Why the politics of envy are keenest among the very rich (Guardian)

Essential public services are cut in order that the wealthy may pay less tax, writes George Monbiot. But even their baubles don't make them happy.

6. Israel should seize the Arab League's offer (Independent)

Wherever the truth lies in Syria, Israel’s intervention has inevitably eclipsed the other potential development in her relations in the Arab world, writes Donald Macintyre.

7. It would be folly for Cameron to ape UKIP (Financial Times)

This is already an exceptionally conservative government, writes Janan Ganesh.

8. If we want more women in British boardrooms, we need to fix childcare and introduce quotas (Independent)

The Nordic countries have better conditions for being either a mum or a female CEO, writes Margareta Pagano.

9. Governments manage change. UKIP fears it (Times)

Anxiety about the modern world is understandable, but people must be helped to adapt, not encouraged to hide, says Rachel Sylvester.

10. Reforming the UN security council: mañana, mañana (Guardian)

After almost 70 years, it suffers from the twin deficits of representativeness and legitimacy, says a Guardian editorial.

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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.