Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The west’s Mid East dominance is ending (Financial Times)

Those calling for deeper US involvement in the Syrian conflict are living in the past, writes Gideon Rachman.

2. Forget the excuses, here's how Britain can tax the rich (Guardian)

Cameron has made a bold push at the G8, writes Polly Toynbee. But it's time our politicians admit you can't have Swedish services on US rates.

3. The Thatcherite case for staying in the EU (Daily Telegraph)

Britain is richer, safer and more powerful for being a member of this global economic giant, says Ken Clarke. 

4. Is Ed up for a referendum? He may need to be (Independent)

Tory taunts won’t go away if Miliband resists matching Cameron’s pledge, says Donald Macintyre.

5. Intervening in Syria is a terrible idea – but we might just have to (Daily Telegraph)

The advantages that come from our alliance with the US also bring a heavy responsibility, writes Benedict Brogan.

6. No Minister, you can’t have recycled paper (Times)

The wasteful practices of the National Union of Mandarins is making cuts even deeper than they need to be, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Borisstan: the independent city state and docking station for global wealth formerly known as London (Guardian)

What would the British capital look like in the future if it broke away from the rest of the country, asks Aditya Chakrabortty.

8. Hassan Rowhani is a man we must do business with (Times)

Iran’s new President is brave and outspoken, writes Norman Lamont. The west should see him as a Gorbachev.

9. U-turn if you want to, Ed Miliband’s still a dud (Daily Telegraph)

There's just one thing missing from Labour's recent policy changes: a convincing leader, says Dan Hodges.

10. Britain is served well by its political class (Financial Times)

The crisis response by the UK’s unloved elites has been better than in many other rich democracies, writes Janan Ganesh.

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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.