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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 29, 2022 12:30am-1:01am BST

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this is bbc news. we will have the headlines and all the main news stories for you at the top of the hour as newsday continues straight after hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. workers across much of the industrialised world are being hit by a triple whammy, inflation is outpacing their wages, the gig economy is undermining job security and intelligent technology promises to transform the world of work.
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how should employees respond? well, my guest is frances o'grady, the general secretary of britain's trades union congress. what ever happened to the power of organised labour? frances o'grady, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. you've had almost a decade at the top of the trades union congress. for much of that, time you been seen as somebody who favours collaboration over conflict. but right now would you say that the trade unions are about to take the gloves off when it comes to
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relations with employers? well, i favour workers getting a fair deal and clearly unions are about trying to negotiate fair pay, health and safety, decent conditions at work and equality. and many, many times we get good agreements with employers so that's important. but clearly, if an employer won't compromise, won't listen then it's important that workers have that internationally recognised right to redraw the labour. if that's what it takes, i'm afraid that's what we have to do. it does seem as though something is shifting. i just look at the figures, over the past 12 months the trades union congress has logged come over 300 disputes in different industrial sectors. it does seem that that far outstripped the numbers before the covid pandemic. are you now in a new era of conflict? i think we are seeing an appetite from workers to make sure that their wages at least keep pace
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with inflation. and in the uk that looks set to hit 10%, calculating just energy bills alone arie rising ten times faster than wages. so it's not surprising that workers are getting themselves organised and saying, "we want a fair deal, " we know that it's not wages that are driving inflation, its global energy prices and we need action on that front, windfall tax cuts on some of those energy companies. i saw the top man at bp saying he had more money than he knew what to do it. well, i think consumers and workers would like to see some of that come back into their pay packets and be taken off their bills. and that's understandable, entirely understandable that workers see inflation, i think officialfigures have it at 7% right now, but as you say could go to 10% by the end of the year.
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they want their wages to at least try to keep up with that. but i'm just looking at some strikes that have yielded major pay rises in different parts of the uk in the recent past, in the south of england a 19%—plus rise was eventually given to refuse workers at a distribution centre for a big retailer, there was ultimately after a dispute a near 11% pay boost for workers. i mean, these are stunningly high wage rises. businesses say they simply can't afford that level of rise. well, they could because they agreed it, and i think it's a positive thing that workers are getting organised and more confident about asking for a fair share of the wealth that they produce. you know, the problem is that if pay packets are shrinking there is less demand in the economy, fewer people spending in local shops and businesses, and we end up with the economy stagnating, which isn't good for any of us. so we have to have fair shares... but the flip side of that is
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that you are dealing across the union movement with businesses which are under a massive pressure as well. we know they are facing inflationary rises in their supply chains. we know also that the government is imposing a rise in national insurance, which they're can have to pay on their payroll. they've got massive pressures and then the workers are coming saying, we want 15, we want 19%. it's unrealistic, isn't it? well, not unrealistic if the company is agreeing it with those workers. in fact, i was up meeting the workers where you referred to, ithink, a big warehouse, very low pay. it was a big thing for them to vote for strike action. they obviously don't get paid and they are already struggling and theyjust want enough money to cover the basics. and i think what we have seen is the longest squeeze on living standards that we've had in two centuries. we've already had ten years of austerity where wages were being frozen at best, cut in real terms. people are looking
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for some of that back. and i guess if we're going to talk about restraint then we have to talk about restraint at the top, some restraint on profits, some restraint for shareholders. there has to be some fairness written into that deal. understood. people with long memories, olderfolk like me might remember the wage price spirals of the 70s and early 80s. very, very long way from that. are we really? because you said to me, of course, our inflationary pressures are nothing to do with rising wages. but actually, aren't rising wages in the short to medium—term going to exacerbate inflationary pressures. that sort of how it works. there is no evidence for that whatsoever. in fact, on the contrary, all the pundits are predicting that real wages will fall this year. in fact, the chancellor in britain has stated that their expecting real wages to fall. and it gets to the point where people have cut their own household budgets to the bone and there simply isn't
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scope to cut any more. it shouldn't be the case that key workers who got us through the pandemic are visiting food banks, for goodness' sake. something has gone desperately wrong. so when the governor of the bank of england, a rather important voice in the economy, andrew bailey, when he said recently that both companies and workers should show, "restraint in pay negotiations", and when asked further whether that meant workers should not ask for big pay rises, mr bailey said broadly, yes, that is right. how did you feel about that? i think the bank of england corrected their position subsequently and talked about profits to shareholders too. i think it's born of a kind of orthodox view that somehow if you clamp down on workers that the books will balance. 0n the contrary, what we've seen time and time again is that if workers pay the price for all these
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crises every single time, then that sucks demand out of local economies and that's not good for economic growth. as you have already mentioned, we are also talking about the context of an extraordinarily difficult two years for many people thanks to the covid pandemic. do you think workers have been made to pay a price for covid? because the government has made great efforts to try and insulate workers from the worst effects of the pandemic, thanks to the furlough scheme. well, the furlough scheme was of course a great union idea and i was pleased at the time that we got... you were instrumental, but alongside business leaders, the cbi and of course the chancellor rishi sunak, are you saying it was all your idea? it was certainly a trade union proposition furlough. it's something we have done right around the world where we can get agreements from governments. again on that premise that the biggest threat
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we faced at that point was mass unemployment and that wouldn't just mean misery forjust millions of families potentially, that would take the economy down, that was the real threat. so this was the first time in the uk we'd had such a wage subsidy. to be clear, for those people around the world who weren't able to take advantage of such a scheme, furlough basically meant that millions of people were paid a fairly high proportion of their usual wages to sit at home and not go to work because obviously they can't because of the pandemic. yes, it supported and saved 12 million livelihoods at its peak. yes, it was really important. and it did succeed in avoiding mass unemployment, maintaining skills in the economy and making sure that we could bounce back quicker than otherwise would've been the case. and that was something unions pushed for and something we were pleased to get it. not perfect, but one of the best schemes in europe. but you have also said despite being pleased that these
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furlough scheme was rolled out as it was, you've also said that there has been an inequality. you have also said despite being pleased that these furlough scheme was rolled out as it was, you've also said that there's been an in particular have been harder hit in general and those people often in fairly low pay jobs who had to go to work, they were defined as the essential workers in one—way or the other and they actually bore the brunt of the covid pandemic. in so many different ways. and i think this is true of workers around the world. whether they were nurses or shop workers or teachers, that people were carrying on through the crisis, going into work, often at great personal cost and risk sometimes in the case, i spoke to prison officers living separately from their families because they were worried about bringing the virus home. and everybody was thanking them at the time, but when it came to the pay round, a real pay cut, it's simply not sustainable. so is it your contention that one of the lessons that we a society should learn from covid is we should
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rebalance the pay differentials and redefine what is essential and also what is value in terms of work? i think many of us did question that. for the first time realise how much people were paid, how valuable the work they were doing. i often say, people weren't out on their doorstops clapping hedge fund partners. they were clapping carers, nurses, key workers, people who were emptying our dustbins, people who were looking after us in the midst of that crisis. and i think it's only fair that they should be rewarded not with a real pay cut but with some respect and a proper pay packet so people can afford to bring up their families. because it isn'tjust about what's in the pay packet. it's also about how you work. there's an interesting debate in the uk right now about whether it's time, particularly for white collar workers interestingly, and one symbolic area that's being discussed is the role
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of civil servants, white—collar civil servants working for government in london, whether it's time to require them to go back into the office and no longer work from home. is it your contention the government has a point when it now says the time has come, all those white—collar workers who continued to work from home in the pandemic moderated and was largely alleviated, they should not go back to the office? i don't think we can go back to how things were. i think people are looking for positive flexibility. regardless of the job they do or the colour of their collar. i do worry about that class divide, about who can and can't work from home. but i think there's a lot more that we could be doing to make sure that everyjob has positive flexibility. for many workers, they want predictability as well of their shifts. 0k, ijust want to be clear
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with you about where you stand on a cabinet minister jacob rees—mogg going into an office of a bunch of fairly senior civil servants leaving a note saying, "sorry you were out when i visited, i look forward "to seeing you in the office very soon." do you have a little bit of sympathy with him? absolutely not, i'm afraid. i thinkjacob rees—mogg ought to have more important things to be getting on with then interfering on what is industrial relations between the employee and the union who come to agreements on hybrid working. and it's not really, frankly, i would've thought he had more important things to be getting on with it than leaving notes for trying to intimidate individual civil servants. you know, i think people are looking for positive flexibility, whether that's working from home or whether it's about being able to swap shifts, being able to have some more flexibility around caring for children, decent parental leave. you know, there's a package of measures that we can introduce to make work more humane. do you think there is that
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flexibility, that mindset amongst employers to give employees a much greater level of flexability? i think they're having to wake up to the fact that there are different ambitions. it's notjust women, although it's very often important for women as to whether you can have the chance of getting to work or affordable childcare, the hours you work your way to work from. but i think many young dads in particular that i speak to also want to play a much bigger part in raising their children. and certainly, when they are doing driving jobs or warehouse jobs, the big issue for them is predictability of shifts. perhaps again, in the interest of fairness and compensation if your shift is cancelled at the last moment... we will get on to other aspects of the workplace. for now i want to reflect on a significant moment for you. you've announced you're going to be leaving the secretary—general of tuc job at the end of the year.
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it's time to review where the trades union are in the uk. would you acknowledge that actually trade unions are weaker today in terms of the legislation around what you are able to do, how you can represent workforces, weaker than when you began the job. well, every conservative government has introduced anti—union legislation. the last time they did it in 2016 it was about attacking that internationally recognised right to strike. so is that your way of saying, yes, we are weaker? well, the legal framework is certainly tougher. i think people may ask, "why would you want to weaken workers bargaining power to get a feel good not fair deal at work?" but the good news is that membership is bigger, we've grown for the last four years in a row. right, but you're still way, way down to where you were even two decades ago. way down. some 13 million members to what? six point something.
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we've got a lot of work to do. how fantastic that particularly women have beenjoining the trade union in numbers. because they they understand that it's only when we join in union that we've got a chance of getting decent... some people might not believe that. there's one rather symbolic momentjust in the last few weeks of the uk, which i'm sure a lot of people have been weighing up whether or not to join a union may have been watching very closely. and that is what happened at the p&0 ferries company. they unilaterally sacked 800 seafarers without any sort of consultation with the union. now when the boss... breaking the law of the land. exactly. when the boss was confronted in the committee the boss said, there is no doubt we were required to consult with the union but we chose not to do that, it was our assessment that this change was of such magnitude that no union would accept their proposals. so theyjust did it anyway. too right. when they're not even paying the crew that they've
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replaced our members with with agency labour, they're not even paying them the national minimum wage. so too right, we would never agree to that. but the point i'm making is you were utterly ignored. he would rather take his luck by facing ——potential legal by facing potential legal action that actually consult with a union. i come back to the point for people watching about what is the point of trade unions and the current legislative environment in which you have to operate? it's not the first time we've had a fight and we don't walk away from a fight when we are faced with such injustice. but it's also one where governments have to step up. this is a global industry where we know, in british waters we've had african and filipino workers employed on less than £2 an hour. the agency labour that they replaced unions workers with anti—union rate for the job, they've even tried to cut their pay even further. this is a race to the bottom that can only be tackled by governments stepping up.
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your words are powerful but are you not in a way, simply making my case for me that the unions have been so weakened that there is a question mark about whether they fulfil any important role anymore? look at borisjohnson prime minister, he promised just a couple years ago he would introduce new legislation to enshrine workers' rights. time after time over the last two years he's just put and put it back and put it back on the shelf. you've complained, you said this is unacceptable, you have to introduce this legislation. still no sign of it. it's one of the reasons why we are calling that mass demonstration in london on saturday, june the 18th where we will have the chance to say to the prime minister directly as working people, you have got to act, you got to make sure that the likes of p&0 don't get away with it.
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that we ban fire and rehire, zero hours contrats, bogus contracts self—employment and that we get fair pay agreements. these are political choices that governments around the world can make. look at president biden in new york celebrating that breakthrough in amazon and the right of workers to organise and be treated with dignity. i'd like to see leaders around the world following president biden's example and shifting the balance of power towards working people and against bad bosses. because it undermines decent bosses too. let's look to the future then. you've already told me our membership of is slowly but steadily rising after going down for many years. i would counter that by saying, look at what's happening amongst young people. one of your own reports, i believe it's in early 2020 showed that trade union membership amongst young people aged between 20 and 29 is14.1%, it's fallen by almost half to just 7.5% membership amongst young people in the private sector, which is where most
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young people work. you are losing the next generation of workers from your movement. absolutely. we've got a get much smarter, with the use every tool in the box, especially digital trade unionism to reach young workers. because again, it's symptomatic of what's happening in the areas where they are concentrated, hospitality, high turnover, low pay, insecure contracts. and the gig economy as many people call it, to be honest, some young people say suits their lifestyle. and you as a movement seem to be so adamant that it doesn't serve the interests of workers and maybe some young people aren't so sure. i disagree with you. look at the agreement we just reached with uber. platform employer, we've shown that unions can make those breakthroughs, can organise workers and deal in a mature way with those employers but make sure that we are driving up labour standards.
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interesting. you've got an agreement with uber. can you wield leverage even with the biggest new tech companies, i'm thinking of companies like amazon, some warehouses are now unionised, new tech companies, companies like amazon? we are trying. we've got members, we have to build because in this country obviously you have to get a majority. but we will get there. and that's why i think we take such heart from what's happened throughout friends in the united states. my goodness me, having a government on your side. well, it tells you something when the us traditionally is much less inclined to be union oriented and membership is much lower. it comes to something when they are ahead of the united kingdom when it comes to unions the cutting edge tech sector. and we work internationally as a trade union, where helping each other. i think some of those guys
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who don't want to see unions invest billions of dollars in union busting. i think their day will come, their time is running out. because we've got to do something about this gross inequality and unfairness at work. it's got to change. a final thing i want to get to you with and it's born out of a fascinating article you wrote last year about the power of artificial intelligence and the degree to which, when we look towards it next generation of workers, the big fault line isn't necessarily going to be between worker and employer, it's good to be between worker and intelligent machine, artificial intelligence you say, ai is making life—changing decisions about who gets a job, who gets paid what salary, who gets selected for redundancy. the fact is, workers aren't even consulted about and agreed to which machines are now dominating in dictating their working lives. how do we change that? again, our employment rights have to keep pace with these big changes at work. one of the rights we
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are calling for is that right to a human review. because so often we see those big decisions being taken by software that has discrimination written in. does it? well, i think that's been proven, yes. we seen it in terms of race and gender discrimination, in terms of facial recognition, accents. huge decisions about performance at work, whether you even get work, whether you're fired being taken on this basis. so we want the right to human review and we want stronger equality rights. it you want workers to have the right to refuse the next level of what many people call surveillance technology which looks at exactly how they conduct themselves right through the working day and even sometimes at home as well. an end to the notion that a worker has any real right to privacy at all. watch this space because we are producing more work on this. we will be setting a very clear demands, and positive proposals.
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the crazy thing is is that al could be this great liberator, it could take some of the drudgery out of work. we could share the benefits of increased productivity more fairly. but instead, i think many people experience it as pretty oppressive and very often as i say, there is racism written in, hard—wired in. we need to tackle that and we need employment rights that give people the right to privacy, the right to switch off. and the right to a human review. we are out of time, unfortunately. to sum up, it sounds like you may be leaving membership to trade union in the uk but the struggle continues. and i'll always be a trade unionist, always. frances 0'grady, thank you for being on hardtalk. thank you.
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hello. lots of talk about how dry april has been for much of the month, and you can certainly see it in the ground. and, actually, april last year was dry, too — the fourth—driest on record for the uk. but if you remember last year, we had a big transformation in fortunes from april into may — one extreme to another. the ground certainly turned much wetter — in fact, may last year turned out to be our fourth—wettest on record. now, there is some rain in the forecast, but not enough to cause that sort of transformation, because although high pressure is still around for friday — and, for wales and england, into the start of the weekend — low pressure looks to be moving in to scotland and northern ireland, and, yes, this is some rain moving in, so we'lljust pick up a little
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bit more before the month is done, and we'll look at that injust a moment. friday, though, is another largely dry day with that high pressure. just a few showers popping up through central and eastern parts of scotland. not a lot of cloud hanging on through east anglia and the southeast for much of the day, just clearing later. actually, elsewhere, it does look to be a brighter, sunnier day compared with thursday, and temperatures will be a bit higher as a result. now into that high pressure. again, another look at this weather system moving in initially on saturday to northern ireland and scotland with some rain — in fact, some decent rain here, for northern ireland, at least, into western scotland, and clouding over with a chance of rain later for parts of northern england and north wales. south of that, it clouds over. still a few sunny spells in the southeast — this is where we'll see the higher temperatures. now, into sunday, this weather system does move its way southwards. it will be weakening as it does so, but it still has some rain associated with it, but i think increasingly light, patchy or showery on sunday, and all of that gradually clearing away, probably south—westwards.
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keeping a good deal of cloud behind that. a few sunny spells here and there with a few showers, especially into scotland and northern ireland. on sunday, actually, we'll have a milder, warmer day, whereas it will feel cooler in wales and england. now going into the bank, holiday, pressure is high as that system now clears away, and so there'll be a fair amount of cloud around. it will break to allow some sunny spells to come through. there's a chance of catching the odd shower here and there, though most places will stay dry. so it's a mainly settled bank holiday, not particularly warm, but pleasant enough when the sun makes an appearance. some outbreaks of rain towards northern scotland later in the day, and that's another weather system that will move through, particularly as we go through tuesday and then on into wednesday. so this weather system will have, well, it's a kind of messy picture, but some outbreaks of rain gradually pushing southwards, some showers with that as well. from a fair amount of cloud, i think there'll be quite a variation in rain totals from one place to the next, and keeping temperatures around the mid—teens.
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now, beyond that, it looks as if high pressure is going to move in from the southwest. may still allow weather systems to skirt around it to at least scotland, with maybe still some rain at times, whereas where it's been dryiest compared with average rain recently in wales and england, well, we know that high pressure will keep things largely dry. and before we get to that, this is a look at the next five days' rainfall. now we've established there are some weather systems moving through, and, yes, this is some rain. but the key here, pardon the pun, is to look at the key. these colors are not at the wetter end of the scale, they're at the drier end of the scale, and, particularly, these colors here represent nothing more than just a splash of rain here and there, especially across parts of england. so no sign yet of that big transformation we had last year from the dry april to the wet may.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore. i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: the head of the united nations sees for himself the price paid by civilians during russia's invasion of ukraine. the war as the waras an the war as an absurdity on the zist the war as an absurdity on the 21st century. the war is evil. president biden asks congress for $33 billion in extra support for ukraine. we'll bring you all the latest on the war in ukraine. also in newsday: we report from shanghai where the government has made a small concession to the zero covid strategy. some men in the uk parliament
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behave like animals — the verdict from a senior minister after claims that

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