Tag Archives: flexible

Government to give employees a right to work from home – but are there strings attached?

This is home working: check out the complete lack of anything resembling a business suit, the face that hasn’t seen a razor in days, and the portrait of a CAT in a military uniform in the background. And at its height, This Site is read by 180,000 people in a day. No wonder I’ve got a manic grin all over my face.

On the face of it, this is an amazingly progressive move by one of the most regressive governments in UK history.

According to the Mail (and other news outlets), Boris Johnson is pushing forward with a 2019 Tory manifesto commitment to give people the right to work from home unless employers can demonstrate that office working is essential.

Consultation on the plan will take place over the summer, hopefully taking into account the experiences of firms whose employees have worked from home during the Covid-19 crisis.

A survey has shown that 71 per cent of firms found home working either made no difference to their productivity – or boosted it.

Labour has raised concerns over the plan.

In a comment, Angela Rayner said:

We cannot have one-sided flexibility that allows employers to dictate terms to their workers when it comes to flexible working arrangements.

The starting point must be a strengthening of workers’ rights on flexible working so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces.

From the Mail‘s article, that’s not what’s going on here. But I can’t advise anyone to trust the Tories to do the right thing, so we’ll have to stay sceptical until we can read the small print of the proposed legislation.

Personally, up until Covid, This Writer seemed to have a unique perspective on home working.

I quit the last newspaper to employ me as a staffer because I wasn’t allowed to work from home after the local office that was my base was moved from a barely-manageable 27 miles from home to a diabolical 41 miles away.

When the idea of moving the office’s location was mooted, I complained vehemently (although admittedly I wasn’t then the monster who writes for you today).

Because most of my stories were generated in the area where I lived, it meant I may spend a huge amount of working time on the road – time better-spent working on news stories.

I said the only way I would be able to carry on is if I worked from home four days a week (not five, because sometimes attending the office can be important).

It wasn’t until after the office move had taken place that I was told that this would not be permitted. The impression I had was that managers assumed I wouldn’t actually do any work without one of them looking over my shoulder.

So I quit. I leave it up to you to judge whether the collapse of the Mid Wales edition of that paper a few months later had anything to do with my departure and the reason for it.

Of course, all of the work I have done on Vox Political has been from home. It is now my main source of income and at one point last year I had nearly 180,000 hits in a day.

So, y’know, I’ve always been convinced that home working is not only possible, but profitable.

I’m glad Covid has demonstrated this more widely.

And I hope the Tory government recognises it in any legislation it brings forward.

Source: Shock plans to work from home forever: Ministers propose to make it illegal to be forced into office | Daily Mail Online

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How much of the national debt has been faked by tax dodgers?

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.

If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.

The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.

Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.

Now it seems the government is also being deprived of badly-needed tax money because of the way large firms are structuring their pay packets – to the disadvantage of low-paid workers. The details were in Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, Secrets of Your Pay Packet, broadcast on October 21.

With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?

Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.

Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).

Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.

If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.

The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.

This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.

Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).

It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.

That is not what we see.

We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).

We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.

And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.

The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.

In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.

Are you angry yet?

Zero hours, zero benefits, zero enthusiasm. Why would anyone take a job on these terms?

The rise of zero-hours contracts: These figures from the Office for National Statistics may be showing only one-fifth of the picture, according to new research.

The rise of zero-hours contracts: These figures from the Office for National Statistics may be showing only one-fifth of the picture, according to new research.

The rise of the zero-hours contract must be deeply disturbing to all those with an interest in fair employment practices.

The arrangement is that an employee agrees to be available for work whenever required, but with no set number of hours or times of work specified. The employee is expected to be on-call at all times but is paid only for the number of hours that are actually worked.

There appears to be no pension scheme, no sickness cover, no holiday entitlement – no rights other than those laid down by health and safety regulations (which the government is trying to ditch) and the National Minimum Wage Act (also under threat from the Conservative-led government).

Also, the system is open to abuse by managers, who can use it to reward some employees (and the term is used in its loosest possible sense) with extra hours or punish others with fewer.

And how, exactly, is an employee supposed to be engaged in, and enthusiastic about, a job where they are treated as a disposable commodity, to be picked up and thrown away whenever it is expedient?

It seems possible that there is an argument in favour of zero-hours contracts – but only for employees who want to top-up another income stream; people who want occasional earnings and are flexible about when they work. The problem here is that it seems likely employers will want these people to work at times when it will be hard to meet the commitment.

For anyone else – including people who are unemployed, penniless, and need the certainty of a properly-constituted employment contract with set hours, pay and conditions, there seems to be no point in taking up such a contract at all. Yet they are proliferating across the UK.

Is the Department of Work and Pensions, through the Job Centre Plus network, forcing these conditions on jobseekers?

Such a situation might be a huge boost to employment figures, but it would also explain why average pay has fallen so drastically in recent years and the economy has failed – so abjectly – to reignite.

Today (Monday) it is being reported that more than a million UK workers are on zero-hours contracts – four times official estimates.

The BBC is reporting that 14 per cent of these could not earn a basic standard of living. If Job Centres are forcing people into these jobs, via the sanctions regime, this is scandalous. Perhaps it is permitted by law, but this would only mean that the government should have a duty to ensure that jobs which are taken under the threat of sanction are capable of providing this basic standard.

Worse still for the government is the allegation, in research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, that public sector firms – those with government contracts – are more likely to use zero-hours contracts than private companies.

This is particularly prevalent in education and healthcare.

And how is the benefits system affected by these contracts?

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese told the BBC: “Zero-hours contracts cannot be used simply to avoid an employer’s responsibilities to its employees.” But isn’t that exactly how they are being used? Don’t the number of people saying they can’t make ends meet, and the wider state of the economy, indicate exactly that?

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis seems to have got it right when he said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.

“The growing number of zero-hours contracts also calls into question government unemployment figures.”

Business secretary Vince Cable has ordered a review of the zero-hours contracts system, to take place over the summer. He played down fears of abuse, saying evidence was “anecdotal” and adding that “it’s important our workforce remains flexible” (in employment terms, this means all the power is with the employer, while the actual worker has to adapt to the circumstances foisted upon them).

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for zero-hours contracts to be banned, back in April this year.

It seems clear that they are unsafe and open to abuse. But would an all-out ban be appropriate?

Would it not be wiser for Job Centres to continue advertising them, but with no obligation to recommend them to jobseekers (and certainly no requirement to force anyone into applying for them), and with a requirement to warn anyone considering taking up such a position about the possibility that they will not be able to survive on the pay provided?

This might go some way to redressing the balance of power with employers; without the coercive power of the government supporting these contracts, they might try more traditional (and fairer) employment models.

This is a subject worth more examination. What are your thoughts?