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Higher wages are welcome, but workers should not think fortunes have changed | Gig economy

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A prime minister who can say he is levelling up the regions and creating well-paid jobs has something to boast about. One who can achieve this in part by leaving the world’s largest trading bloc and restricting the free flow of labour into the UK, with the associated suppression of goods and capital travelling to and from the 27 EU countries, is a miracle worker.

Johnson claims he is about to engineer this outcome. Many in his party believe him. They say Brexit is not a hindrance to this brighter future, but a catalyst that will improve the working conditions and pay of those at the bottom end of the earnings tree. Even some on the left who opposed Brexit are allowing themselves to dream that leaving the EU has an upside for the working poor.

This narrative was devoid of evidence before the 2016 Brexit vote and that remains the case. It assigns causation to events and trends that have only a passing relationship with the UK’s low-wage culture.

The power of collective action remains hobbled by Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of trade union rights, achieved with the acquiescence of many disaffected union members. Studies have also shown that the plight of Britain’s non-professional and low-waged workers is closely linked to the dawn of the internet age 20 years ago, the increasing automation of tasks in factories and growth of technology in the office.

All developed countries were affected by the shift and all saw wages stagnate, not least in the US, where technology is deployed more widely on the shop floor and in the growing “gig economy” of flexible service industry jobs. The situation worsened after the 2008 global financial crash upended the economy and crushed the confidence of even the most skilled workers, who might have previously thought they could bargain up their wages. Too scared to move job for fear of losing employment rights accrued after years of service, workers balked at asking for a salary increase.

It is true that, over time, some industries went on to become dependent on migrant workers. However, research shows that in most cases migrants did not “steal” the jobs of British-born workers, but usually took on roles that were vacant or previously had not existed, whether in an architecture practice or serving coffee in a new cafe. In the period before the pandemic, wages stagnated in industries and regions where migration was low, even when unemployment was low.

This summer there have been reports of haulage firms raising lorry drivers’ pay and Amazon spending more workers to staff its warehouses strung along the M1, but these may be isolated examples. The Office for National Statistics says overall figures for wages are difficult to fathom at the moment, but it judges they are increasing by 3.5% on average, following a fall of about 1.5% in the year to June 2020.

Frances O’Grady, the leader of the trade union movement, speaking before this weekend’s TUC conference, dallied with the idea that workers were about to see their fortunes improve. However, she was rightly realistic about the task, saying: “I don’t want to be complacent about the job we have to do to strengthen workers’ bargaining power. There are no shortcuts.”

Trade union membership is inching higher, but only 2.5 million of the UK’s 27 million private sector workers belong to one. Private equity firms feel free to cut workers’ terms and conditions as they buy up businesses.

As a result, if prices do increase in the run-up to Christmas, it will be because Brexit hit trade with the EU and played a part in creating a shortage of goods, not because wages have spiralled. For pay to increase, businesses must accept a smaller share of their revenues as profit. That is not going to happen unless ministers help change a culture of exploitation that has dominated the private sector for too long.

It’s curtain-up for many, but theatres fear joy may turn to tragedy

Britain’s theatres are hoping for a post-pandemic comeback, with an astonishing number of new productions launching and the return of fan favourites, such as Cinderella, Frozen, Mamma Mia! and Hamilton.

The UK theatre industry has been hit harder than most. A version of the coronavirus insurance scheme that the film and TV industry started to take advantage of almost 18 months ago was extended to theatreland only last week, but this hasn’t stopped the owners of West End venues investing millions to woo back the crowds.

While theatres were allowed to open at 50% capacity in May, and social distancing rules were dropped in July, August’s “pingdemic” forced the closure of some productions and the postponement of many others, But now the West End is getting its mojo back.

By Christmas, well over two dozen big-name productions will have opened, from Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Moulin Rouge to Wicked and The Book of Mormon. Such was the pent-up demand that one senior theatre executive described rapturous first-night crowds as akin to “the Rolling Stones or the Beatles coming back”.

But the recovery is far from certain. International tourism remains almost non-existent, and schedules have had to be reworked, with new Sunday shows to cater for larger domestic audiences, and some midweek matinees dropped.

And theatre owners remain angry, saying the government’s insurance scheme is too costly and not fit for purpose: it will pay out if a show is stopped for food poisoning, but not over any coronavirus interruption short of a government-mandated lockdown. For audiences it’s entertainment as usual: but behind the scenes, the story of theatreland’s recovery is far from over.

EasyJet can look forward to less turbulence from its founder

Battered by the pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, easyJet has gone cap-in-hand to its shareholders once again, hoping to raise another £1.2bn through a rights issue.

One man who definitely won’t be stumping up is the airline’s founder and biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who said last year that he would not invest any more as long as the company continued to order planes from Airbus. Directors confirmed last week that in the next two years they will spend another £1.9bn on new A321 aircraft.

The rights issue will dilute the founder’s holding to just 15%: it is still likely to remain the biggest single stake, but will be far less influential than the 34% share of easyJet that Haji-Ioannou and family controlled until 2020, after a decade of acrimony and dispute, and a failed attempt to oust chief executive Johan Lundgren.

Despite the huge wealth Haji-Ioannou had tied up in the airline – and the fortunes generated annually by dividends and brand licensing – he had become ever more marginalised from his creation: railing furiously at the strategy but failing to win the backing of other investors in his attempts to oust the “scoundrels” from the board, while easyJet directors muttered politely in public about engaging with their key shareholders.

For most of the aviation industry, there have been precious few upsides to its worst-ever crisis. But should easyJet survive the turbulence, the pandemic might at least draw a dignified curtain over its bitter internal rows.

Covid has, to some extent, reined in easyJet’s fleet expansion, and two of Stelios’s targets on the board have left. Haji-Ioannou has this time apparently concurred that fresh equity is needed, and can cash in.

The Cypriot entrepreneur may never have quite hit the mark with his other orange “easy”-branded ventures. But once he casts less of a shadow, easyJet may appreciate his legacy more.

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Workers

Need for greater clarity in Labour Codes to accommodate gig workers: Industry

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While the pandemic and onset of technology has created new opportunities of employment such as work from home, part time employment, contract workers, and gig workers, it has also provided opportunities to women and students to reap the benefits of the digital wave. However, as we find new job opportunities on the rise, the traditional avenues have been severely affected by the pandemic. In this regard, it will be critical to have a coherent and well thought out Labour Code.

The new Labour Codes have a unique opportunity to foster recovery. It is imperative to find balance and provide accommodative support to the new forms of employment. The labour codes need to recognize small contract labourers and businesses and make provisions for them.

Lack of uniformity and varied regulations at the state level have had an impact on other aspects of employment as well. These variations are disruptive to businesses with operations across various states and may result in workload disparity and deterioration in quality of the production. The rules skirt over the realities of the digital economy and seek to transpose legacy regulation and limitation on growth. In line with this, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director, The Dialogue, was of the opinion that, “Businesses, especially small organisations and startups, are still coming out of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The labour laws, if implemented in the current form, will not only increase the pressure and compliance burden on the companies but also affect their financial output. The role of gig workers is vital in this new economy, and provisions must be made towards giving them adequate compensation and recognition.”

The Panelists highlighted some key focus areas such as flexibility in work hours, need for clarity in the definition of core activity, social security for the gig workers and taking into account emerging job models that need consideration to help guide the discourse towards an enabling framework. Centre, state and other stakeholders have to work together in order to ensure that maximum benefits are accrued to the gig workers while being mindful that businesses are not overburdened. Given the subject matter these codes regulate, there is a constant need of dialogue among the stakeholders to improve the legislation while securing the workforce.

Speaking on this, Mr. Ram Rastogi, Digital Payments Strategist, stressed that, “The e-commerce platforms have revenue-sharing arrangements with the people on their platforms. Thus, there needs to be a differentiation for people working full-time and people working in flexible models. Labour codes shouldn’t deter industries that are performing well and consider a performance-based pay model.”

He further stated, “Gig workers do the most hard work and make only a small fraction of what permanent workers make. Policymakers should think about them before coming out with the codes and should encourage state governments to work on policies for them.”

Suchita Dutta, Executive Director, India Staffing Federation, “Formal Contract work and employment is growing in India. It is helping people pick up new skills and become more industry relevant. While Formal contract labour is well protected for social security and all applicable labour laws including wages, the Gig workers still find the similar format of protection. To realise the full potential of the labour codes, there needs to be continuous dialogue across the sectors to tap the maximum impact for the benefit of gig workers.”

Avik Biswas, Partner, Indus Law, “The gig economy workers, for the first time, has been statutorily recognized in India. While the objective of the Codes vis-à-vis the gig economy can be predicted given the way several international regulations on this subject has been structured, we are however still at a stage where a lot more clarity is required on the operative parts of the regulations and how they would substantively affect both companies and workers alike. The obvious way forward appears to be the necessity of a constant dialogue and consultation between the government, employers and other relevant stakeholders.”

There is a need for the government to acknowledge the various types of workforces across different sectors. The one-size-fits-all approach may not work since the codes haven’t taken into account rising digital industries such as e-commerce. Additionally, this code might be exclusionary in nature to the small businesses and gig workers in the country especially in states like Maharashtra where people receive work on contractual basis. Hence, it is essential to examine the grey areas in the codes and rework the same.

Published on: Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:26 PM IST

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Singapore looks into more protection for gig workers

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An advisory committee expects to provide recommendations that require legislative change by the second half of next year.

A newly formed committee in Singapore will be looking into more protection for gig workers, in the areas of retirement and housing adequacy, work injury financial protection and bargaining power.

The advisory committee expects to be done with the work by the second half of 2022, with a possible end goal of putting out recommendations that require legislative change, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon. 

“It could well be a set of tripartite guidelines, for example, to guide either workers or platform operators on what is the expected behaviour… It may well be other things that require legislative changes to bring into effect; some of the measures that need to be secured and guarded by law to give adequate legal protection,” he said, reports the Business Times. 

“Or it could well be something that we leave to the union, for example, to have the flexibility to negotiate with the platform operators, because the situation can evolve; platform business models can change as well, so we do not want everything to be a one-size-fits-all.”

READ: Singapore urges SMEs to adapt, build workforce for post-pandemic

The committee is focused on three groups of gig workers: delivery workers, private-hire car drivers and taxi drivers. It comprises industry experts, academics and government representatives, and is headed by Goh Swee Chen, chairperson of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals.

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Help gig workers get social security benefits: Plea in SC | India News

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NEW DELHI: A petition has been filed seeking intervention of the Supreme Court in helping secure social security benefits for gig workers engaged by Uber, Ola Cabs, Swiggy, Zomato and other app based service providers.
The petition, jointly filed by a registered union and a federation of trade unions representing app-based transport and delivery workers, and two individual drivers who have worked with Ola Cabs and Uber, alleged that denial of social security like pension and health insurance to them is violation of their right to life and right against forced labour. “The present petition is being filed raising questions of the great public and constitutional importance namely whether the ‘Right to Social Security’ is a guaranteed fundamental right for all working people- whether employed in the formal or informal sectors,” the petition, settled by senior advocate Indira Jaising, said.
“It is the case of the Petitioners herein who are known as gig workers and platform workers that they are in an employment relationship with the aggregators and hence covered by the definition of ‘workman’ within the meaning of all the applicable social security legislations including: The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923; The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; The Employee’s State Insurance Act, 1948; Employee’s Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 and ‘Unorganised Workers’ Social Welfare Security Act, 2008’,” it said.
The petition seeking SC’s direction to Centre said the mere fact that their employers call themselves “aggregators” and enter into so-called “partnership agreements” does not take away from the fact that there exists a relationship of employer and employee between them “At present these workers are not being provided the benefit of social security under any of the labour legislations. This defeats the very purpose of the social- welfare legislations, which seek to ensure social security-a facet the right to work and livelihood on decent conditions of work under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.
“These legislations have been enacted pursuant to the Directive Principles of State Policy with a view to ensuring basic human dignity to the workers. The inaction on part of the State in ensuring social security to the “gig workers” and “platform workers” notwithstanding the existence of the said laws, is the clearest violation of Article 21 apart from a violation of Article 14 and Article 23 of the Constitution.



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