News Article | May 9, 2017
A group of minicab drivers, many employed by Uber, have joined black-cab drivers and unions in calling for improved workers’ rights to be a condition of Uber being able to renew its London licence later this month. United Private Hire Drivers, which says it has 1,200 members and organised a go-slow protest blocking roads in the capital in November last year, is calling on Transport for London to insist Uber and other minicab drivers are guaranteed basic employment rights, including the minimum wage and holiday pay, under the terms of its new five-year licence. The Uber drivers are joining calls from the GMB union and the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which speaks for London’s black cabbies, in calling for minimum employment rights and better regulation of operators. Two drivers were backed by the GMB when they won an employment tribunal against Uber which ruled that its drivers were not self-employed contractors but workers , and were therefore entitled to the national minimum wage and holiday pay. Uber is appealing against the ruling. James Farrar, who was one of the drivers involved in the GMB-backed case and co-founded UPHD, said: “TfL has avoided all responsibility for the abuse of workers in the licensed trade for far too long. Now the legal situation has been clarified, TfL and the mayor must take decisive action to protect workers in the interests of public safety by making worker rights protections a condition of Uber’s licence renewal.” He added “Uber in turn also has a simple choice to make: obey the law on workers’ rights or forgo its license. It can be longer acceptable for TfL to literally license exploitation for London’s public transportation system.” Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the LTDA, said organisation had written to TfL setting out a legal challenge against the renewal of Uber’s licence on the grounds it was not a fit and proper operator and was jeopardising public safety. McNamara said: “Uber’s aggressive business model forces its drivers to work dangerously long hours in order to make ends meet, putting passengers and other road users at risk.” The GMB is also calling for TfL and other licensing authorities to ensure all minicab operators including Uber ensure their drivers have worker status. “Licensing authorities have the ability to put in conditions for operators’ licences under local bylaws. We believe TfL can can put in a requirement for drivers to be guaranteed the rights of workers not just for Uber but all operators,” said the GMB national officer, Mick Rix. But Rix admitted that changes to national legislation might be required as local authorities were afraid of a legal challenge against such bylaws. Rix said the union would be lobbying the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who has close ties to the GMB, but would also consider “alternative options” such as legal action if its demands were not met. An Uber spokesperson said the “vast majority” of drivers using its app wanted to remain their own boss. The spokesperson said: “Millions of Londoners rely on Uber to get a reliable ride at the touch of a button and thousands of licensed drivers make money through our app. More choice for consumers is a good thing and we believe that black cabs and apps like Uber can and should live side by side. “Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK have been self-employed for decades and with Uber they have more control over what they do.” The company said it had recognised that drivers wanted more security and so had recently starting offering discounted illness and injury cover for drivers. Despite the protests, TfL is expected to renew Uber’s licence. Under proposed new rules for how much Uber and other private hire operators will have to pay for a licence, that could rise dramatically. Over the next five years Uber’s bill could rise from about £3,000 at present to more than £2m under the scheme, which would charge higher fees to operators with more cars. However, consultation on the new fees does not close until June and any new rules may not come into force for some time. A TfL spokesperson said: “We do not comment on the status of individual licence applications.”
News Article | May 13, 2017
Milan Design + Build, LLC (https://www.milandesignbuild.com/) announced today that it recently earned a “Best Builders 2017” award from D Home Magazine. The company was featured on page 112 of D Home Magazine’s May/June 2017 issue. The company received the award at III Forks Prime Steakhouse in late April. According to D Magazine’s website, the awards were presented as “…. Local builders were voted the best in the city by their peers.” The “Best Home Builders” award logo has been added to Milan’s page on the D Magazine online directory here: http://directory.dmagazine.com/home-builders/milan-design-build/64582 The issue mentioned the recent hiring of Duane Pfannenstiel, a veteran Graduate Master Builder (GMB). Scott Trahan, Principal of the company, said, “There is no better construction mind in the city to execute the home of your dreams. Duane’s attention to detail ensures that our clients will have a superlative experience from start to finish.” He also was quoted as saying, “Our core principles are transparency, integrity, and quality.” Additionally, the magazine’s feature shows three images from projects recently completed by the company. According to company representatives, the company offers luxury custom home building for those interested in such properties in Highland Park, University Park, Preston Hollow, Southlake and Frisco. The company’s website says, “At Milan Design & Build, we have the expertise that only comes with over 30 years of experience. From construction and design management, to client relations, Milan Design + Build is quite simply, effective. We apply a unique 360 degree team approach to each client scenario.” The website continues by saying, “The result our clients experience is a superlative process from design conception through realization. The Milan Team uniquely brings client projects into focus by combining vision, aesthetics and lifestyle with precision design execution and project management.” Interested parties may contact the company through its website, by phone at (469) 333-8880, LinkedIn, or through its other social media properties. Media interested in contacting company representatives regarding custom home building in the Dallas area are welcome to contact the company through the same means. For more information, please visit https://www.milandesignbuild.com/
News Article | May 17, 2017
Tata Steel has taken a step towards helping secure the future of its UK operations – including the Port Talbot works in south Wales – by reaching an outline agreement over the restructuring of its pension scheme. Unions reacted cautiously to the announcement by the Indian-owned company that it would pump £550m into the British Steel pension scheme – one of the UK’s largest, with liabilities of £15bn and 130,000 members, including former employees from the days when it was part of a state-owned company. The scheme will also get a 33% stake in Tata’s UK business. The pension scheme has been a stumbling block to Tata Steel merging its European steel operations with German company ThyssenKrupp, and analysts at Berenberg said that joint venture could now be agreed by the end of June. The funding proposal has been announced after intensive talks between Tata, the Pensions Regulator and the Pensions Protection Fund, a government-backed pensions lifeboat that will take over the scheme. Workers paid out through the PPF would take a 10% cut in their benefits, although existing pensioners are not affected. However, unions said that last year, when they backed Tata Steel’s turnaround plan, they were assured that members of the pension fund would be given a choice between a PPF deal or a move to a new, modified scheme. “This is the commitment Tata has given to the workforce, and the trade unions will hold them to the promises they have made,” the unions of Community, Unite and the GMB said in a joint statement. “This announcement is a stepping stone in the process to secure BSPS members’ benefits in a new, modified scheme sponsored by Tata Steel UK,” the unions said. A spokesperson for the PPF said it “expected discussions to be completed in the near future”. There were no details immediately available about the alternative scheme, but Allan Johnston, chairman of the pension scheme trustees, said: “Although the PPF is an important safeguard for pension schemes generally, the trustee believes that the BSPS has sufficient assets to offer members the potential for better outcomes by enabling them to transfer to another scheme offering modified benefits. For most scheme members, these modified benefits are expected to be of greater value than those they would otherwise receive by transferring into the PPF.” Tata Steel said the new scheme – subject to approval – would have “ lower future annual increases for pensioners and deferred members” than the current scheme and “therefore an improved funding position which would pose significantly less risk”.
News Article | May 16, 2017
Uber has come under further pressure in London after a union threatened legal action if the capital’s transport authority renews the taxi app’s licence without guaranteeing more rights for drivers. In a legal letter sent this week, the GMB union warns Transport for London (TfL) that failure to impose conditions which guarantee income for Uber drivers while limiting their number in the city and the hours they can work would “breach the relevant standards of reasonableness and would accordingly be unlawful”. The GMB said it would apply for permission to seek a judicial review of the licence agreement if TfL did not apply the new conditions. The union argues that Uber’s current business model in London necessitates drivers working excessive hours “to the detriment of the health and safety of Uber drivers in London and of other road users”. The dispute over the terms of Uber’s licence is due to be settled via arbitration, and the GMB said if this route was chosen the company’s licence should be renewed for only a six-month period in order to allow the matter to be resolved. The term of Uber’s current licence is five years and the new one is expected to be of a similar length. The threat of legal action from the GMB comes after Uber drivers and the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, the trade body for London’s black-cab drivers, called for minimum employment rights and better regulation of private hire taxi operators including the US company. The GMB backed a successful employment tribunal case last year against Uber that ruled its drivers were not self-employed contractors but workers, and were therefore entitled to the national minimum wage and holiday pay. Uber has appealed against the ruling. The original case involved 19 Uber drivers. The GMB said a further 41 drivers have joined the claim. GMB has also lobbied the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has close ties to the union, to step in. An Uber spokesperson said: “Millions of Londoners rely on Uber to get a reliable ride at the touch of a button and thousands of licensed drivers make money through our app. “Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK have been self-employed for decades and with Uber they have more control over what they do. Drivers who use Uber are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts, minimum hours or uniforms. Last year drivers using our app made average fares of £15 per hour and were logged in for an average of 30 hours per week. “The vast majority of drivers who use Uber tell us they want to remain their own boss as that’s the main reason why they signed up to us in the first place.” Despite the protests, TfL is expected to renew Uber’s licence. A TfL spokesperson said: “We do not comment on the status of individual licence applications.” Under proposed new rules, the amount that Uber and other private hire operators pay for a licence could rise dramatically. Over the next five years, Uber’s bill could rise from about £3,000 at present to more than £2m, under a new scheme that would charge higher fees to operators with more cars. However, consultation on the new fees does not close until June and any new rules may not come into force for some time.
News Article | February 17, 2017
Uber has been accused of exploiting a legal loophole that allows its drivers to operate in UK towns and cities where they don’t have a licence, leaving local authorities powerless to regulate them. Mick Rix, the GMB union’s national officer for the hackney and private-hire taxi trade, said the company behind the cab-hailing app was “acting with impunity” across the UK, where it was increasingly “spreading its tentacles” into smaller towns and cities. After changes to the law surrounding taxi licensing, brought in by the Deregulation Act 2015, drivers with a private-hire licence from a local authority can use it to operate anywhere in England and Wales. Previously, the law required drivers to return to the area in which they were licensed between jobs. Rix said the deregulation of the market and the arrival of Uber had “opened up a real hornets’ nest” all over the UK, where 40,000 Uber drivers now operate in more than 25 towns and cities. Last month, Southend council found that two cab drivers it had previously stripped of their licences were using the Uber app to pick up passengers in the area. Nasser Hussain, 60, and Nisar Abbas, 37, had been found to be sharing penalty points for traffic offences with other drivers in order to avoid being banned. Despite this, they were able to get new cab licences from Transport for London, which permitted them to work legally using the Uber app in Southend, where Uber does not have an operators’ licence. Tony Cox, Southend council’s cabinet member for transport, said the legislative loophole had left the local authority “impotent to protect the public”. Councillors in other local authorities have also complained that Uber drivers who do not fulfil the authority’s specific licensing requirements – such as minimum vehicle age and successful completion of a knowledge test for the area – can still operate legally in their jurisdiction with a licence from elsewhere. Licensing fees also vary from area to area, leading some to suggest that drivers are seeking out the authorities where it is cheapest to get a private-hire licence. Reading council denied Uber a licence to operate last year, but during the summer’s Reading festival an average of 1,000 passengers a day took a trip using the taxi app. Although it is not known where the drivers travel in from, it is thought that many are licensed by nearby Slough borough council and Windsor and Maidenhead borough council. Councillor Paul Gittings, Reading council’s lead member for consumer services, said there was nothing the local authority could do to stop Uber drivers operating in the area, even though the company had failed to meet its licensing conditions – specifically a requirement to have a manned office with a phone line. “I think it does create an uneven playing field, because other private-hire operators and hackney carriages are paying us a licensing fee,” he said. “But Uber drivers can still come along and pick up trade here.” York council has written to the city’s MPs, calling on them to demand clarity from the government over the law. Uber has a temporary licence to operate in the city and, although only 12 Uber drivers are licensed by York council, hundreds of Uber cabs arrive in York from surrounding areas every weekend, to take advantage of increased demand from the city’s student and tourist populations. Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, cited examples of Uber drivers disregarding rules that applied to drivers licensed in the city, such as the prohibition of tinted rear windows or the need for drivers to pass a knowledge test. “Every local authority has the duty of care within its own boundaries,” she said. “Sheffield [for example] cannot be responsible if something goes wrong in York. The duty of care lies with York council.” Matt Boxall, head of public protection at City of York council, said that while standards differed between authorities, City of York was working with other councils in the West Yorkshire combined authority region to create more standardised conditions. He stressed that the council took the safety of customers very seriously. Rix said problems had arisen because some local authorities were “giving licences away like sweets”, citing Rossendale council, which came under fire in 2015 when it was found to have given out more taxi licences per head of its population than London. The council has admitted it was slow to deal with the loopholes created by the Deregulation Act, but says it has since toughened up its licensing processes considerably. In October last year, 414 of Sheffield’s minicab drivers were found to have obtained their licences from Rossendale council, while 53 had taxi licences issued by Transport for London. Responding to the discovery, Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, said the law allowed drivers to “shop around for the most easy-going regime and get their licence there”. This week, Uber announced it would offer its drivers free English courses and financial advice, as well as introducing an appeals panel for drivers with grievances against the company. This came after Uber faced criticism for denying its drivers basic employment rights. In October, Uber lost a landmark employment tribunal, which ruled that its drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed. The ruling, which Uber is appealing against, could leave the company open to claims from its drivers, who are currently not entitled to holiday pay, pensions or working time controls. A source at the Department for Transport said local authorities were ultimately responsible for the drivers they awarded licences to, regardless of where the drivers were picking up customers. He said the new Policing and Crime Act, which passed into law at the end of January, ensured that all local authorities had to carry out advanced background checks before issuing licences. An Uber spokesperson said: “Private-hire drivers are not restricted to driving within one licensing jurisdiction. In fact, it’s common practice for drivers licensed in one council to carry out trips in another. Drivers licensed in England and Wales can legally pick up and drop off passengers anywhere, as long as the trip is pre-booked and their vehicle and driver’s licence match the operator they are registered to. “Drivers who use the Uber app are no different to other licensed drivers – who all go through the same enhanced DBS background checks – but with our app they have the freedom that comes with being their own boss.”
News Article | February 7, 2017
What will the recent court cases involving Uber and CitySprint mean for the future of the gig economy in the transport sector? Something that looks and feels like work is being done. People wear uniforms, obey rules, are tied to a business and depend on it for their income. Yet, when it comes to employment rights, the app delivers a “page not found” message. It’s like a job, just, you know, an alternative one. It is an alternative to a job with sick pay, holiday pay and protection against unfair dismissal. That’s the bleak view. There is another way of looking at this. Research carried out by the University of Hertfordshire last year revealed that one in 10 respondents had found work through an online app or platform. It is hard to make a confident estimate of the number of people in the UK working in this way, but this research suggested that as many as 5 million people could be earning income through the gig economy. It is clear that the sector is growing. The postal and courier sector, for example, is growing faster than almost any other part of the UK economy, according to official figures. Last month Deliveroo, the food delivery company, said it wanted to hire another 300 IT staff for its London headquarters. The company reported a 650% rise in takeaway orders last year. But to be successful these businesses are exploiting both the vulnerability of workers and the failure to enforce existing employment law properly. It has taken sustained campaigning and lengthy legal action, led by the new Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) along with the GMB and Unite, to slow down what looked like an unstoppable erosion of employment rights. Anyone with a job needs to pay attention. Last year’s tribunal defeat for Uber against two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, was crucial in establishing that workers who accept these “gigs” are not independent contractors but, in fact, workers to whom certain employment rights are due. This defeat was followed by another for the courier firm CitySprint, which was found to owe holiday pay to one of its workers, Maggie Dewhurst. Both these cases have confirmed what common sense would tell you: that gig workers putting in long hours of arduous work, providing and maintaining their own transport, and offering commitment to a company, should expect to be treated like workers with rights and not as independent small business people. “We don’t need any new law to be written,” says Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the IWGB, “we just need existing law to be enforced properly”. Hence his union’s pursuit of any business that tries to maintain the fiction that the people who do the work are not workers. If employment tribunal fees were abolished it would be easier for gig workers to bring claims. There is currently little fear of punishment for these businesses, who can carry on paying low piece work rates (ie per delivery) while the supply of available labour is high. The growth in gig work affects government revenue too: with more and more people in self-employment, employer national insurance contributions fall and the country is worse off. Some firms have been quite open about the appeal of this kind of labour market in the past. “Productivity is different with a self-employed fleet,” Patrick Gallagher, the chief executive of CitySprint, told Fleet News in November 2012. “If you’re paying somebody per job as opposed to paying them per hour, they’re going to work harder.” Dewhurst says that some gig employers are effectively getting away with paying below the national minimum wage when the other costs of doing the work are taken into account – maintaining a vehicle, any sick or holiday pay, admin expenses and so on. “In order to attract couriers they only need to offer ‘competitive pay’ – which is not good in monopolised industries, which tend to freeze if not drive down pay over time,” Dewhurst says. The people doing the work are under no illusions about this, she adds. “Everyone knows they are being exploited. The question is ‘how much am I being exploited?’” For all the hyped-up talk of platforms and apps, in some ways the gig economy is a very traditional model. It is piece work: unpredictable, uncertain, and paid at unattractive rates. A CitySprint courier earns around £3.50 per delivery. So you would have to complete three deliveries an hour to get near a living wage. Dewhurst warns that this on-demand model could spread to white-collar jobs. What about lawyers or accountants, waiting by the phone or laptop to do some paperwork, threatened by the alternative of a robot that might do the same job for a vastly smaller fee? How much will even an expensively trained human be able to charge for that gig? “Unless we take drastic action, we will all wake up in five years’ time, on bogus contracts, with no employment rights, paid per task, and managed by a smartphone,” Dewhurst says. 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News Article | February 19, 2017
When he got the letter after Christmas saying he was entitled to an unconditional income of €560 (£478) a month, Mika Ruusunen couldn’t believe his luck. “At first I thought it was a joke. I had to read it many times. I looked for any evidence it might be false.” But the father of two was not the victim of a scam. He has been selected to take part in an experiment being run by the Finnish government, in which 2,000 unemployed people between the ages of 25 and 58 will receive a guaranteed sum – a “basic income” – of €560 a month for two years. It replaces their unemployment benefit, but they will continue to receive it whether or not they find work. The government hopes it will encourage the unemployed to take on part-time work without worrying about losing their benefits. Ruusunen lives in Kangasala, a half-hour bus ride from where we meet in Tampere, the country’s second city, known as the “Manchester of Finland”. Like its namesake, the signs of the 19th-century wealth generated by the industrial revolution are strikingly visible. Today, the Finnish economy continues to struggle in the wake of the financial crisis, which hit just as communications giant Nokia’s star was starting to wane. This left Ruusunen, who lost his job as a baker two years ago, struggling to find work. He was unemployed when participants for the basic income pilot were randomly selected, but had started a paid IT apprenticeship by the time he got the letter. “For me, it’s like free money on top of my earnings – it’s a bonus,” he tells me. But he thinks the basic income will make a big difference to others who are unemployed, especially those who are entrepreneurially minded. “If someone wants to start their own business, you don’t get unemployment benefits even if you don’t have any income for six months. You have to have savings, otherwise it’s not possible.” Juha Järvinen, another participant in the pilot scheme who lives in western Finland, agrees the benefits system holds the unemployed back. He has been unemployed for five years since his business collapsed. “I have done a lot for free – wedding videos, making web pages – because I’ve liked it. But before a basic income I would get into trouble if I got any money for that work.” Finland’s experiment is a variation on the idea of a universal basic income: an unconditional income paid by the government to all citizens, whether or not they’re in work. The Finns have long been perceived to be at the cutting edge of social innovation, so this is a fitting setting for the first national experiment of its kind. But the idea of the basic income has captured a zeitgeist extending far beyond the borders of Scandinavia. Enthusiasts include Silicon Valley’s Elon Musk, former Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich, Benoît Hamon, the French socialist presidential candidate, and South Korean presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung. On Friday, Glasgow city council commissioned a feasibility study for its own basic income pilot. The basic income is a big idea with a pedigree. It owes its roots to Thomas Paine, the 18th-century radical, who in 1797 proposed paying all 21-year-olds a £15 grant funded through a tax on landowners. Since then it has captured the imagination of many a philosopher, but until the past couple of years never gained much political traction beyond the fringes. So what explains the sudden jump this centuries-old idea has made from political fringes to the mainstream? There is now a growing band of politicians, entrepreneurs and policy strategists who argue that a basic income could potentially hold the solution to some of the big problems of our time. Some of these new converts have alighted upon the basic income as an answer to our fragmenting welfare state. They point to the increasingly precarious nature of today’s labour market for those in low-paid, low-skilled work: growing wage inequality, an increasing number of part-time and temporary jobs, and rogue employers routinely getting away with exploitative practices. This grim reality collides with an increasingly punitive welfare state. Our welfare system was originally designed as a contributory system of unemployment insurance, in which workers put in during the good times, and took out during temporary periods of unemployment. But a big chunk of welfare spending now goes on permanently supporting people in jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families. As the contributory principle has been eroded, politicians have sought to create a new sense of legitimacy by loading the system with sanctions that dock jobseeker benefits for minor transgressions. Anthony Painter, a director at the RSA thinktank, paints a picture that will be familiar to viewers of Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake. “You are late for a jobcentre appointment – so you get a sanction. You’re on a college course the jobcentre doesn’t think appropriate, so you get a sanction. Your benefits are paid late, so you face debt, rent arrears and the food bank. That’s the reality for millions on low or no pay – they are surrounded by tripwires with little chance of escape.” Painter thinks a universal basic income of just under £4,000 a year could change all that. By itself, it wouldn’t be enough to take someone out of poverty, but it could give them the flexibility to retrain or the breathing room to wait to take a job that has prospects rather than being forced into taking the first vacancy that comes along. The Finnish government shares Painter’s thinking. “The social security system has become complex over time, and needs simplification,” Pirkko Mattila, the minister for social affairs and health, tells me. She hopes participants in the Finnish pilot will find it easier to take short-term jobs and start their own businesses. Marjukka Turunen, the civil servant implementing the pilot, points to the bureaucracy and uncertainty involved in declaring temporary income. “If you have a part-time job you have to apply for your benefit every four weeks,” she says. “You might have lots of different employers, and you’ll need to wait to get payslips from all of them. Then it takes another one or two weeks to process your payment. You don’t know how much you’ll get and when, which means you can’t plan ahead.” A second set of basic income converts articulate a grander case, grounded not so much in the breakdown of the current welfare state, but in a world where the rise of robots means many of us will no longer have to work. We will be free to enjoy lives of leisure – but without work, we will all need a source of income. This view has become fashionable in the wake of a series of headline-grabbing estimates about the proportion of jobs susceptible to automation. In 2013 Carl Frey and Michael Osborne at the Oxford Martin School predicted that 47% of jobs in the US were at risk of being automated “relatively soon, perhaps the next decade or two”. They foresaw innovations such as driverless technology replacing jobs such as driving a taxi, road haulage and dispatch driving. These predictions have led some mainstream thinkers, such as Robert Reich, to warn that a future bereft of jobs may be looming. “Imagine a little gadget called an i-Everything,” Reich wrote last September. “This little machine will be able to do everything you want and give you everything you need.” He argued that, with fewer jobs, resources will need to be redistributed from those who own the technology of the future to the rest of us who want to buy it. According to Reich, a universal basic income “will almost certainly be part of the answer”. In some quarters, then, a basic income is developing a reputation as the aspirin of the public policy world: a wonder drug that fixes multiple problems, from issues with the benefits system to replacing the jobs some argue will disappear from our lives. What’s the catch? The most obvious one is expense: it’s not cheap to pay every citizen an unconditional income. Even incremental proposals cost sums that would raise eyebrows in Whitehall. Painter estimates his proposal for a basic annual income of just under £4,000 would cost around £18bn a year, and that’s after scrapping the personal tax allowance to help pay for it. That’s the equivalent of a 3p rise in the basic rate of income tax. The state would still need to keep paying housing and disability benefits on top of that. Make it more generous, and the costs escalate rapidly. The expense is only a problem as long as the public are reluctant to pay for it. Polling that shows support for the idea of a basic income – one poll in Europe suggested 64% of adults back the idea – invariably fails to ask voters whether they would be prepared to countenance the sort of tax levels needed to fund it. A basic income would therefore require a fundamental shift in our politics: leaders who are comfortable advocating unpopular tax rises. A proposal for an undetermined level of basic income was rejected by 78% of Swiss voters in a referendum last year, although that may partly be explained by the fact that campaigners were calling for a very generous income level of £1,765 a month. It’s not just the expense: critics warn that a universal basic income is unlikely to deliver the benefits its advocates claim. “The current [benefits] system is draconian, but it doesn’t need to be,” points out Declan Gaffney, an expert on social security who recently gave evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee on basic income. “It would be disingenuous to use its problems as a bully pulpit for basic income.” He has also highlighted the risk that removing the obligation for those on benefits to look for work might encourage some people to drift into long-term worklessness. More fundamentally, many labour market economists have challenged the notion that robots will steal our jobs. Jobs have disappeared throughout history as a result of technological advance: you would be hard-pressed to find many washerwomen since washing machines became ubiquitous. But the economy has always created new jobs to replace the ones that disappear. Predictions about the end of work are hardly new. In 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote about a world where machines did all the work in his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism. John Maynard Keynes predicted back in the 1930s that technology would allow us all to cut down to a 15-hour working week. “I’m old enough to remember exactly the same arguments about the end of work being made 30 years ago – then it was about de-industrialisation, now it is about automation,” says Gaffney. “The lesson from that period is not that we should pay people to stay out of the labour market. It is don’t park people when they lose their jobs. If you expect large-scale job destruction, you need to put policies in place to support people into new jobs. That didn’t happen in the 1980s to the extent it should. As a result, a lot of people who lost jobs never worked again.” Peter Nolan, professor of work at Leicester University and director of the Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, says the end-of-work thesis is based on unrealistic assumptions about the private sector. “Many predictions about the number of jobs that will be automated in coming years are based on what’s technologically possible, not evidence about the extent to which and how companies will choose to deploy technology,” he says. “It’s wrong to move straight from talking about automation to the need for a basic income, without talking about what is happening in the workplace and how we address that. Our work has produced quite a significant body of evidence that some industries are combining advances in technology with degraded work and conditions.” He points to several examples of sectors where the end-of-work thesis simply isn’t playing out. In the logistics sector, companies are using technology not to replace warehouse staff and couriers, but to put them under increasing surveillance to control their working patterns, reducing employee autonomy, skill and dignity. Wrist-based technology allows bosses to monitor activity minute-by-minute, including bathroom breaks. In the East Midlands, garment manufacturing has, after a long period of decline and moving production abroad, started to grow again. But Nolan’s centre found that three-quarters of these jobs pay around £3 an hour, less than half the minimum wage. As a result of a lack of minimum wage enforcement, companies in the UK are, under the radar, returning to the sweatshop-style labour of the past. Nolan argues that we should be focusing on properly enforcing minimum wage legislation and improving employment conditions through regulation. Some argue there is even a risk a basic income could facilitate this sort of exploitation. Unscrupulous employers might further embrace precarious employment models, in the knowledge that everyone is getting a basic income to tide them over. This is what worries Antti Jauhiainen, the founder of Parecon Finland, a radical economic thinktank in Helsinki. “I think CEOs in the Silicon Valley tech industry recognise a basic income could be good for them because it would allow a platform like Uber to keep payments to drivers low,” he says. And why is Silicon Valley fronting up the case for a basic income while some of its biggest success stories – Apple and Facebook – go to all lengths necessary to massively reduce their tax bills? It’s hard not to feel that in doing so the tech sector is passing the buck on to the state while ignoring its own responsibilities to the societies from which it profits. Jauhiainen is a supporter of basic income in principle. But he thinks it is significant the Finnish pilot has been introduced by a centre-right government that has embraced austerity. “In the current political climate, it could turn bad,” he says. The Finnish left are divided on the pilot: some see it as a step in the right direction towards a universal basic income. But Finnish unions have historically opposed it, fearing it will eat into their collective bargaining power, and that it may be a way for the right to scrap minimum-wage requirements. These fears that the basic income could be used as a tool for the right’s own ends are far from baseless. American libertarians such as Charles Murray have long argued that a basic income could be used to do away with the welfare state altogether. In Britain, the way in which Conservative chancellors have steadily delivered tax cuts that disproportionately help more affluent families, while cutting the means-tested benefits relied on by those in the greatest financial need, should sound a note of caution. Unions in the UK are much more enthusiastic, perhaps because they have less to lose than their Finnish counterparts which have retained greater collective bargaining power. Becca Kirkpatrick is a community organiser and chairs Unison’s West Midlands community branch. One reason she is attracted to a basic income is because of her own experience as a part-time carer. “If I had a basic income, I could invest a lot more into supporting my younger sister, who is disabled,” she says. Kirkpatrick won her branch’s backing for the idea, and Unison West Midlands is asking candidates for West Midlands mayor to commit to piloting a basic income. Nikki Dancey, branch secretary for the GMB in Berkshire and North Hampshire, is another grassroots union member involved in the campaign. “A basic income could offer enough financial security to encourage workers to stand up for themselves at work, strengthening the union movement,” she says. The basic income has now been endorsed by the TUC, the GMB and Unite. “The left and the unions have taken a hammering in recent years, and what we need now is a big win. Universal basic income has the potential to be that win,” says Dancey. Others on the left agree. John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, has previously made welcoming noises about a basic income. Earlier this month he announced he was setting up a working group to look at the idea. Since it lost power in 2010, the Labour party has been in search of an answer to the de-industrialisation, growing wage inequality and economic insecurity that proved fertile territory for the Brexit campaign. Ed Miliband’s responsible capitalism was roundly rejected by voters at the ballot box in 2015. Perhaps, then, it is worth trying something new. Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham and Rainham, is a passionate dissenter. I spoke to him last year for a Radio 4 programme on the basic income. “I don’t see [Sports Direct owner] Mike Ashley moving into a post-work world or automating his mass factories in the West and East Midlands,” he said. “Where is the evidence of this? We’re seeing more and more degraded work.” Cruddas worries that basic income risks distracting the left from its age-old mission to improve the quality of work. “The left has not resolved the question of giving people a genuine voice at work so as to enact a more dignified workplace. “But that does not mean you absolve yourself for trying to find the answers to this by embracing a form of futurology that owes more to Arthur C Clarke than Karl Marx. I see this as an abdication of the political struggle across the left. I find that tragic.” Cruddas is surely right that any account of the intertwined struggle for economic and political power seems missing from these new left accounts that advocate for a basic income on the basis of the end of work. It’s hard to envisage the robot owners of the future paying the rest of us a basic income when today’s tech giants do everything in their power to avoid paying tax. Ditch the idea that work should pay decently, and what remains for the left? There’s no contest between the science fiction of Arthur C Clarke and the class struggle of Karl Marx: the left abandons Marx at its peril. For Mika Ruusunen in Tampere, though, a basic income helps him make sense of our changing world. “We now have more freelancing, part-time jobs and people with multiple jobs than ever before,” he says. “I see a basic income as a natural reaction to our changing economic culture.” But, given divisions on the left in the UK, and a lack of interest from politicians of the right, basic income-supporting trade unionists such as Becca Kirkpatrick could face a long fight ahead. The idea of the universal basic income is that the government pays every adult citizen the basic cost of living. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, in work or unemployed – everyone gets the same amount. There are no strings attached. After years spent on the margins of political thought, the universal basic income has, over the past year, gained traction among mainstream thinktanks and some in the Labour party. It has also been backed by Silicon Valley, including, last week, Tesla founder Elon Musk. Trials of UBI are taking place around the world, including in the Netherlands, Italy and Finland. In the UK, the Scottish government is considering pilot schemes in Glasgow and Fife. Supporters of UBI say that as technology changes the world of work, the current benefits system is becoming irrelevant. A universal basic income could, they argue, protect the increasing numbers working in an insecure labour market and moving between zero-hours contracts and part-time jobs.
News Article | February 10, 2017
Pimlico Plumbers has lost a court battle over the status of its workers, in the latest legal ruling on employment status in the gig economy. It came as the government released a report warning that “unscrupulous” employers were in a position to exploit low-paid and low-skilled workers. Plumber Gary Smith, who worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years until 2011, had already won an employment tribunal challenging the firm’s view that he was self-employed. The court of appeal rejected an appeal lodged by Pimlico Plumbers, founded by the Conservative party donor Charlie Mullins. The firm argued Smith was an “independent contractor” rather than a worker or employee. Smith’s solicitor, Jacqueline McGuigan, said the ruling held wider implications for gig economy firms such as Deliveroo or Uber, both of which are embroiled in rows over employment status. “We are absolutely delighted,” McGuigan said. “The decision brings welcome clarity to the issue of employment status relating to work in parts of the economy.” Speaking outside court, Mullins said: “I am happy. This gives some clarity. We will be looking at the full judgment and there is a good chance we will appeal to the supreme court.” The UK’s department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “We are determined to make sure our employment rules keep up to date to reflect new ways of working, and that’s why the government asked Matthew Taylor to conduct an independent review into modern working practices.” But BEIS immediately came under fire from the Green party for failing to publish a report that warned in December 2015 that gig economy workers were at risk of exploitation. A string of labour disputes have since arisen as staff from firms such as Uber, Deliveroo and CitySprint have fought to have their status upgraded to that of workers or employees. The report, commissioned by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, warned that a lack of clarity over workers’ status was allowing “unscrupulous” employers to take advantage of workers. It explored possibilities including “flipping” the burden of proof in labour disputes, so that employment tribunals would consider complainants to be full employees unless a different relationship could be established. “Some of the more unscrupulous employers will also have to start to take notice if a significant proportion of their workforce stand up for what is rightfully theirs as a result,” it said. The Green party said the government’s failure to publish the report since it was completed in December 2015 had increased uncertainty for gig economy workers and forced them to take the risk of going to tribunal. “It is shameful that Tory ministers have sat on the findings of the coalition’s review into employment status,” said Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley, who wrote to the prime minister in October calling for the report to be published. “As they did so workers everywhere have been living in increasing insecurity and left to fend for themselves.” Asked why the report had been delayed, BEIS said it had been commissioned to “explore future options” and would help inform the Taylor review into employment status, which was launched a year after the report was published. Employment law experts said the Pimlico Plumbers ruling would have significant implications for the ongoing dispute over employment status. Natalie Razeen, employment law solicitor at Russell-Cooke, said the decision “suggests that courts are alive to the inequality of bargaining power faced by individuals in these circumstances. “This serves as yet another reminder to employers that they should consider the question of employment or worker status carefully.” Marian Bloodworth, employment partner at Kemp Little, said the judgment highlighted the need for legal clarity around the status of those working on a self-employed basis and in the gig economy. “Tribunals and courts are increasingly willing to look behind the labels businesses use for their staff and will take into account the reality of the working arrangements and relationships,” she said. The ruling is the latest decision to be handed down in a series of court challenges launched by gig economy workers who feel they should get the same benefits as full-time employees, such as holiday pay and pension. A cycle courier working for the delivery firm CitySprint won the right earlier this year to paid holidays and minimum pay. Food delivery firm Deliveroo was told last year it must pay its workers the minimum wage unless they are ruled self-employed by a court or HM Revenue & Customs. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain has written to Deliveroo on behalf of a group of couriers in Brighton, serving two weeks’ notice to offer better pay and more hours. The group has also had a message of support from the GMB union. Ride-hailing app Uber lost the right to designate its drivers as self-employed last year, in a ruling it has since appealed against. Maria Ludkin, the GMB’s legal director, said: “This case, like the Uber case last October, is yet another victory for the bogus self-employed who have been treated appallingly by their employer. “All they want is basic employment rights as are enjoyed by the majority, including the right to be paid a minimum wage and holiday pay.” • This article was amended on 14 February 2017 to clarify that the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain is organising Deliveroo riders in Brighton.
News Article | February 28, 2017
Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.” Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013. She said movement of the industry’s “best intellectual talent” was made easier by the UK’s membership of Euratom. The government said it was working on alternative arrangements to Euratom. Describing the notification of withdrawal as a “regrettable necessity” when article 50 is triggered, energy minister Jesse Norman said that the UK saw “clear routes” outside of Euratom to address issues such as the trade of nuclear materials. “We take this extremely seriously and are devoting serious resources [to looking at new arrangements],” he told the Lords science and technology committee on Tuesday. Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said there was a “lot to be done” to put in place transitional measures replacing Euratom. “What we’re collectively warning about is the potential for there to be a very hard two-year period during which there are lots of other things the government has to deal with, that could leave it in a position where some of these things aren’t in place,” he said. Greatrex said one possible option was an associate membership of Euratom. Over the weekend, the GMB union called on ministers to reconsider their “foolhardy rush” to leave the treaty, claiming it could endanger the “UK’s entire nuclear future”. But the Office for Nuclear Regulation argued there could even be be some positives to leaving Euratom, such as a reduction in bureaucracy. “If we relinquish Euratom there would be reduced burden from not having to comply with directives,” said David Senior, an ONR executive. Norman also promised a decision was due soon on the next stage of a delayed multimillion-pound government competition for mini nuclear reactors, known as small modular reactors. “I love the projects and ideas but I want to be shown the value,” he told the peers.
News Article | February 13, 2017
Toshiba is expected to confirm that it is withdrawing from new nuclear projects outside Japan, dealing a blow to plans for a new power station in the UK. The Japanese company has been reviewing its investment in overseas nuclear projects and is expected to make an announcement on Tuesday. Toshiba owns Westinghouse, the US-based nuclear developer whose AP1000 reactors are to be used at a planned £10bn power plant at Moorside in Cumbria. Toshiba also has a 60% stake in NuGen, the company that would build the Moorside plant near Sellafield, so pulling out would leave the government having to look for new backers. Chris Jukes, the GMB union’s senior officer for Sellafield, said: “A new build at Moorside is part of a vital broader and home-grown energy mix – built, maintained and operated by British workers. “Brexit should be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate conclusively a better way for nuclear in west Cumbria. For 70 years Whitehaven has been a hub for nuclear. “That is why we are calling on the British government to commit the investment that is lost by Toshiba pulling out and for the British and Japanese governments to work together on a broader solution so that post-Brexit, west Cumbria jobs, skills and nuclear futures are guaranteed.” Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said: “The government’s energy policy is in chaos. We have become increasingly reliant on the decisions of foreign companies whose interests lie with their owners and not British consumers. “If Toshiba pulls out of the proposed Moorside plant in Cumbria, the government must intervene immediately and provide public support and financial stability for Moorside and the community of west Cumbria. “That means taking a public stake in exchange for public support to protect energy supplies and jobs. Labour backs new nuclear and an expansion of renewable energy to keep the lights on and meet our climate change targets.”