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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Posted by Hari on Thursday, December 17, 2015 with No comments | Labels:

A day at 'the gulag': what it's like to work at Sports Direct's warehouse
Warehouse staff at the group, the booming retail chain controlled by the billionaire Mike Ashley, are required to go through searches at the end of each shift, for which their time is unpaid, while they also suffer harsh deductions from their wage packets for clocking in for a shift just one minute late. The practices contribute to many staff being paid an effective rate of about £6.50 an hour against the statutory rate of £6.70 – potentially saving the FTSE 100 firm millions of pounds a year at the expense of some of the poorest workers in the UK. The discovery of the low pay being received by Sports Direct workers comes on top of a string of criticisms of the working conditions within the retailer’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, where more than 80% of staff are on zero hours contracts. Workers are also: Harangued by tannoy for not working fast enough; Warned they will be sacked if they receive six black marks – or “strikes” (see document below) – over a six-month period for offences including a period of reported sickness, “errors,” excessive/long toilet breaks, using a mobile phone in the warehouse, “time wasting” and “excessive chatting” and “horseplay”; Banned from wearing 802 separate clothing brands at work; The rigorous searches – down to the last layer of clothing, asked to roll up trouser legs and show top of underwear –typically takes 15 minutes, because management is so concerned about potential theft. Meanwhile, local primary schoolteachers have told the Guardian that pupils can remain in school while ill – and return home to empty houses – as parents working at Sports Direct are too frightened to take time off work. Union officers say the strict culture in the warehouse has resulted in workers being afraid to speak out over low pay and conditions as they fear immediately losing their jobs. The criticisms of Sports Direct – which have also included questions about whether its pricing policies are misleading, as well as the influence Ashley has on a company whose shares are held by many UK pension funds – come as the public company continues to dominate the UK sports retailing market and its trading performance flourishes. The retailer’s success story is almost entirely credited to the unconventional retailing nous of Ashley, a self-made man whose fortune amounts to £3.5bn. Zoe Lagadec, a solicitor at Mulberry’s Employment Law Solicitors, said that docking 15 minutes of pay for clocking in slightly late is “arguably a breach of the national minimum wage, which carries both criminal and civil sanctions”. GUARDIAN

That didn't last long! Britons could see pay stagnate AGAIN next year as salary increases slip away
Britain's workers could see their salaries stagnate once more next year as the rate of pay growth falls, a report warns. Annual pay growth could slump to 1 per cent next year if productivity levels fail to increase and inflation rises quicker than expected, the Resolution Foundation said. With inflation expected to pick up slightly from its recent level of around 0 per cent, this would see real wages stagnate again. If current levels of low productivity and prolonged low inflation continue, pay in the UK may not increase to pre-crash levels until the next decade, the report suggests. Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: '2015 marked the long-awaited return of rising real pay, following a six-year squeeze, but the recent pay rebound owed much to ultra-low inflation, which we're unlikely to see again next year. Pay growth in 2016 will ultimately be determined by whether the recent upturn in productivity is enough to offset rising inflation. On the upside, strong output growth and prolonged low inflation could result in the highest level of real wage growth in over a decade. But equally, a failure to build on the early signs of a productivity recovery, combined with a swifter-than-expected return to target inflation, could send real wage growth tumbling to less than 1 per cent. Such a scenario could mean typical pay not returning to its pre-crash level until the next decade. There is plenty that businesses and government can do to drive productivity growth. The introduction of the new national living wage should help to focus minds on boosting output, particularly in low-paying sectors who are most affected by the new higher wage floor.' DAILY MAIL

Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case
Google enlisted members of the US congress, whose election campaigns it had funded, to pressure the European Union to drop a €6bn antitrust case which threatens to decimate the US tech firm’s business in Europe. Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commission chief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so. Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign. The US House judiciary committee wrote to MEPs concerning the antitrust case against Google. The committee’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte, said the committee was “troubled to learn” some MEPs were “encouraging antitrust enforcement efforts that appear to be motivated by politics” that would ultimately undermine free markets. Google has consistently donated to Goodlatte’s election campaigns, while members on the judiciary committee that he chairs collectively received more than $200,000 (£133,000) from the company during the 2014 election cycle. Google’s expansion of its lobbying activities in Brussels has come in response to a growing number of threats to its business in the EU, where it dominates about 90% of the search market. It argues that its rivals lobby just as hard against it, if not harder. In April, a long-running antitrust investigation came to a head when the newly installed EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, formally accused Google of abusing its market dominance by systematically favouring its shopping price-comparison service. Under pressure to defend itself, Google has opened its cheque book. Last year, the company spent more than twice as much on lobbying in Brussels than Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and Uber combined. Yet Google is still being outspent by Microsoft, which some in Brussels suspect is backing a vocal anti-Google lobby in Brussels. GUARDIAN

Bedroom tax: three in four affected have cut back on food, government research shows
The research found that 46% said they had cut back on heating, 33% on travel and 42% on leisure. Among a control group of tenants unaffected by the bedroom tax, far fewer – 56% – said they were cutting back on food because of benefit changes. The findings by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and Ipsos Mori were slipped out by the government on the last day of parliament before the winter break, along with a deluge of more than 380 other documents. Its study found landlords were very concerned that some tenants were “in severe poverty and unable to pay the shortfall”. The report said 78% of claimants who were still affected by the bedroom tax after two years of the policy were regularly running out of money by the end of the week or month. They tended to pay the rent by using up savings, borrowing from family or friends or accruing debt. The report found that only one in nine claimants escaped the bedroom tax by moving to a different property, and the vast majority of those affected were still affected nine months later. Only 5% of those affected by the policy had been successful in finding extra work, of which half said they were then no longer affected by the bedroom tax. Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:“The DWP’s own evaluation finds that the bedroom tax is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families – the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy.” She also criticised the timing of the report’s publication. “This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas,” she said. GUARDIAN

Homeless families in English B&B accommodation rises by 46%
As many as 3,000 families were housed in B&Bs in the three months to the end of September 2015, the figures show. That compares with 2,060 families in such accommodation a year previously, and is the highest total for 12 years. The government announced an extra £5m of help, and said it was committed to helping the most vulnerable in society. Housing charity Shelter blamed cuts in local authority budgets, which have left some councils struggling to cope. There was also a 20% rise in the number of households who were re-housed outside their local area. According to the figures, 18,600 households were re-located, the highest number ever. Almost all of them were in London. The number of children who were in temporary accommodation - and therefore classified as homeless - rose to 103,430 in the quarter, the highest number since 2008. "These figures are a heart-breaking reminder that thousands of families will wake up homeless this Christmas morning - many hidden away in a cramped and dingy B&B or hostel room, sometimes miles away from everyone and everything they know," said Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Shelter. BBC NEWS

Children are being priced out by ‘pay to play’ in public spaces
Until three years ago, south London parents could take their children to Battersea adventure playground to climb, dance and generally let off steam – without paying a penny. Not any more. Last week the treetop adventure company Go Ape opened for business on the site, offering climbing sessions for between £18 and £33 per child. The old adventure playground, which was full of constantly changing equipment painted by the children, has been bulldozed and replaced by an ordinary swings-and-slides park aimed at under-11s. Those using the play park will find themselves looking up at their peers whose parents have paid for them to swing in the treetops. It is likely that there will be more tensions over the use of public space as councils across the country eye up private partnerships. “We’re seeing a lot of parks looking at introducing facilities that generate income,” said Drew Bennellick, head of landscape and natural heritage at the Heritage Lottery Fund. “Whether it’s Go Ape, crazy golf sites, multi-use football facilities that are floodlit, or cafes – they’re all exploring ways to potentially generate income to offset the cost of running the sites.” A report by the fund last year estimated that 45% of local authorities are considering either selling parks and green spaces or transferring their management. GUARDIAN

Osborne gives political adviser 42% rise amid public-sector pay freeze
George Osborne has given the adviser responsible for his new image a promotion and a pay rise of more than 40%, employed an additional seven political aides while asking public-sector workers to accept a pay freeze. Thea Rogers, a close associate of Osborne, received the biggest rise among all the political special advisers across government, with a pay increase of 42%, giving her £98,000. She is now his chief of staff. A former BBC producer who once worked with the corporation’s former political editor Nick Robinson, she is said to have been responsible for Osborne’s Caesar-style haircut and for placing him on the 5:2 diet. James Chapman, the Daily Mail’s former political editor, has been employed this year by Osborne on £125,000, while another Osborne adviser, Sue Beeby, is being paid £73,000 to be part of his Treasury team. Osborne has three other people employed in his office whose pay levels are not registered. A footnote to the data shows that the chancellor has taken on three other politically employed advisers who sit on the council of economic advisers – Richard Davies, who is paid £98,000, Neil O’Brien, who is paid £93,450, and Jennifer Donne, whose pay is not registered. Another adviser to Osborne, Eleanor Wolfson, is currently on maternity leave, the footnote adds. The disclosure comes in data that shows the bill for special advisers (called “spads”) across government has risen to £9.2m in 2014-2015, up from £8.4m over the previous year. At the beginning of this year there were just over 100 spads.  In July, the chancellor told thousands of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and civil servants that they would face another four-year pay freeze at 1% a year, as part of planned savings worth £17bn. Many more jobs are also set to be lost across the public sector. Under Gordon Brown in 2009-2010 the cost of special advisers was said to be £6.8m, and there were 71 advisers on the government payroll. GUARDIAN

Think tank floats 'basic income' idea for all citizens
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is recommending a basic universal income. In a new report, the author calls the approach the best alternative "to help people improve their own lives". The RSA estimates that its proposal would cost about an extra 1% of annual national income (GDP). The idea is in principle fairly straightforward: a standard payment is made to every citizen. The report illustrates how it might work using data for taxes and benefits in 2012-2013. The basic income for people aged between 25 and 65 would in this example be £3,692. There is a pension of about double that amount for those older than 65. Anthony Painter, its director of policy and strategy and author of the report, says: "The welfare state has become incredibly complex whilst locking those it seeks to help in a vicious circle of low pay, insecurity and an intrusive state." The potential advantages include simplicity of administration given that you only need to establish that the person receiving it is a citizen. One of the aims of the proposal is to reduce the disincentive to work - or to work more - that comes with the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. As a recipient's income rises, entitlement to most benefits declines and they can be left with only a very small amount of any additional income. It's known as the poverty trap or welfare trap. The RSA's plan picks up an idea that has gained popularity in recent years. Finland is undertaking a pilot scheme, although it will not report its results until 2019.Some cities in the Netherlands are also looking at the idea. There is also a debate in Switzerland about introducing a basic income. In the UK, this idea has been supported by the Green Party. It is also advocated by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, a think tank that is not party political but is vigorously pro-free market in its outlook. BBC NEWS

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