UK drivers are workers

Uber has launched an appeal against a landmark employment tribunal ruling that its minicab drivers should be classed as workers with access to the minimum wage, sick pay and paid holidays.

The taxi-app company filed papers with the appeal tribunal on Tuesday in an attempt to overturn the October judgment that, if it stands, could affect tens of thousands of workers in the gig economy.

The move came as several dozen Uber drivers picketed City Hall on Wednesday holding placards demanding Transport for London, which licences Uber as a private hire operator in the capital, “end sweated labour now”. It also mounted a protest at the City of London offices of Salesforce, a US computing company that is a major Uber client.

Two Uber drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, took Uber to court on behalf of a group 19 others who argued that they were employed by the San Francisco-based company, rather than working for themselves. Uber’s business model has been based on treating drivers who log on to its app as self-employed contractors and taking a cut of their fares, which Uber dictates.

The employment tribunal judges were scathing about Uber’s case that drivers who use its phone app to pick up fares were self-employed.

“The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous,” they said. “Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.”

Farrar said Uber’s appeal was expected but was “really disappointing”. “It means we have to fight again, but why?” he said. “It is just because they don’t want to pay the minimum wage. We are confident. Our case is rock solid and the original judgment was emphatic.”

Jo Bertram, Uber’s UK general manager, said: “Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss. The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want.”

Meanwhile, 25 more Uber drivers are planning to claim workers’ rights from Uber and have joined the legal action the law firm Leigh Day is bringing with the GMB union.

“Since the judgment was issued, we and GMB have spoken to hundreds of Uber drivers who wish to claim compensation for Uber’s failure to provide these entitlements in the past, as well as to ensure that they are paid at least the national minimum wage and holiday pay in future,” said Nigel MacKay, the lawyer representing the claimants.

Abuses of migrant workers


In 2015, the Irish government announced a new work permit scheme to regularise undocumented fishermenfrom outside the EEA working on Irish-owned vessels. The initiative was launched after a Guardian investigation highlighted alleged abuses.

Early last year, 500 one-year permits were made available to owners who were required to pay the statutory minimum wage to migrant workers and provide them with a solicitor-backed contract. Francis O’Donnell, chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, said at the time that 1,000 work permits would be needed “to get everybody covered”. According to a spokesperson from Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality, just 182 permits have been granted to date. O’Donnell said he was not aware of boats breaking the regulations but any that did so acted without the support of his organisation.

MRCI’s O’Toole said: “The scheme is facilitating the use of cheap labour and we are extremely concerned about the lack of enforcement by Irish authorities.”

On Monday, 68 migrant fishermen attended a meeting in Dublin organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Only one person said he had a valid work permit and some of the workers, who were mainly from Egypt, alleged a range of employment abuses including low pay, threats of deportation and continuous “24-hour” working with only 30 minutes’ rest in that period. One undocumented Egyptian said that last year he worked 150 hours a week on a trawler but was not paid properly. “We are slaves working,” he said.

Solve the self employed status

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.”


We have the laws for a fairer gig economy, we just need to enforce them

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.

Fall in employment tribunal cases on fees

The number of cases taken to employment tribunals has fallen by 70% since fees were introduced, a government review has found.

Unions called for the fees of up to £950 to be scrapped, saying the slump in claims mostly affected low-paid women.

The review said the introduction of fees had dramatically changed how workplace disputes were resolved, with a significant increase in the number of people turning to the conciliation service Acas.

The number of multiple claims taken to employment tribunals fell from 5,847 before fees were introduced to 1,740 in the year afterwards (2014-15) – a reduction of 70%. The number of single cases fell by a similar percentage.

Unison said the fees were ill-judged, had failed to save taxpayers’ money and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice.

Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The lord chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong.

“Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.”

Announcing plans to expand a scheme under which fees are waived for the lowest paid, the justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said: “It is right that those who can afford to should contribute to the cost of employment tribunals.

“Under our reforms, record numbers are bringing forward disputes in tribunals or through the Acas conciliation service. Costs should not prevent anyone bringing claims, so we are extending our Help with Fees scheme and will introduce a green paper on further legal support measures.”

Heald said it was hardly surprising that charging for something that was previously free would reduce demand. Users were contributing between £8.5m and £9m a year, in line with what was expected, he said.

But the review said the fall in claims had been much greater than originally estimated, adding: “In many cases, we consider this to be a positive outcome. More people have referred their disputes to Acas’s conciliation service.

“Nevertheless, there is also some evidence that some people who have been unable to resolve their disputes through conciliation have been discouraged from bringing a formal employment tribunal claim because of the requirement to pay a fee. The government has decided to take action to address these concerns.”

Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said: “The government is dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out.

“The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.”

The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka, said: “This review, slipped out while MPs are debating Brexit, shows a government not only content with closing off justice for workers but also celebrating a fall in discrimination claims as ‘broadly positive’.”

Vocational Education and Training

Indian Vocational Education and Training (VET) and general education is in the process of reform and has undergone a number of changes which has seen the system open up to greater participation from industry through the introduction of a National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). The NSQF was notified on 27th December 2013, and was anchored in the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA). Like the EU, Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, the UAE and others, the introduction of a qualifications framework in India called for coordinated linkages across educational training sectors, and industry to ensure that all qualifications in the country are valued and consistent.

NSQF ensured a formal structure to qualifications/courses being offered and implemented in the most scattered manner, by organising them into levels of competencies based on knowledge, skill and attitude. A paradigm shift from input based approach of educational training to an outcome oriented training and assessment is envisaged through the NSQF. This is being done by NSDA by setting up minimum norms for industry validation, curricula and content for qualification alignment and approval. NSDA is providing assistance to State Skill Development Missions and GOI Ministries to align to the new approach, and so far around 1500 qualifications by various certifying bodies have been approved as per the outcome based approach. An outcome based approach will better inform the candidates and the employers about what a learner can do after taking up the course/qualification, and builds confidence in the quality assurance of qualifications leading to better acceptability by Industry, and mobility and progression within and between education and training systems.

National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepre-neurship 2015 has emphasized on the need to undertake skilling in India at scale with speed, standard (quality) and sustainability. Training people under the new NSQF requires a coordinated effort to ensure parity of awards across different educational sectors, and to guarantee consistency in graduate outcomes nationally and increased remittances internationally. If the title and level of a qualification in one country does not meet the outcomes of a qualification of a similar title at a similar level in other countries then trust in that nation’s qualifications will begin to erode. This is where a nationally coordinated quality framework helps to protect the integrity of qualifications. Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship is keen to ensure that qualifications and skills gained are valued in the labour market by employers and students. This is done by aligning national qualifications and training/education needs with comprehensive labour market analyses, and applying outcomes-based quality assurance. This also facilitates smooth pathway progression to higher level qualifications. To achieve this, we require a quality framework to underpin the implementation of the qualifications framework, the NSQF. This will allow India to benchmark qualifications, training, and performance outcomes across Ministries, States and other countries. One common concurrence in all models for international recognition is the emphasis on a unified and internationally referenced quality assurance system for education and skills development.

The policy clearly states ‘One Nation One Standard’ to ensure that a uniform set of nationally accepted standards can be aligned globally and Indian youth can fetch jobs and career progression opportunities at local, national and international levels.

The following parameters have been identified for improving quality:
*Quality assurance framework embedded in NSQF
*Market relevant training programmes
*Recognition of prior learning
*Curriculum alignment
*National Certification Framework
*Employability skills

The Policy has envisioned the role of National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) focussing on Quality Assurance and Policy Research in the skill eco-system. It mandated NSDA to establish and operationalise a Quality Assurance framework embedded in NSQF to improve consistency of outcomes in the skills landscape, which includes laying down a framework for training, assessment and certification processes and agencies in the country. The Quality Assurance Framework will act as a regulatory framework which will define the norms, quality standards and processes to be followed by various stakeholders, in the vocational education and training space in the country.

The proposed National Quality Assurance Framework (NQAF), places particular emphasis on the evaluation and improvement of the outputs and outcomes of VET and general education in terms of increasing employability, improving the match between demand and supply and promoting better access to lifelong learning. Quality in the context of NQAF means; processes, procedures and outcomes for ensuring that qualifications, assessment and programme delivery produce graduates who productively meet industry’s current and future skill needs. The National Quality Assurance Framework (NQAF) is designed to be used across states, sectors and ministries and provides the structure within which all bodies operate.

The vision of the National Quality Assurance Framework is to:

1.Improve the consistency and industry relevance of NSQF graduates through closer partnerships with industry and other social partners;
2.Accommodate diversity and protects learners from inferior and non-relevant skills development for people from all socio-economic backgrounds and genders;
3.Provide a structure for continuous improvement of the VET and general education systems in India;
4.Improve the quality of all education and training in India, even those delivered by institutions that have limited resources, by an inclusive quality framework, which permits such institutions to achieve the quality standards laid down in the NQAF. The objective is not to exclude large number of participants in the VET and general education process by an exclusive framework that set benchmarks that excludes much of education and training provision existing in the country;
5. Provide greater transparency and consistency across the entire VET and general education system as it provides a common framework for the system as a whole to improve, monitor and evaluate the management, provision and outcomes of education and training.

The NQAF is to be applied at all levels of the VET and general education system, and can be used to assess the effectiveness of VET and general education as a whole. A nationally consistent approach to quality will assist in raising the status of VET and general education as employers will realise that graduates are exiting training/education programmes with consistent relevant skills and knowledge. Ministries, States, Government and Industry led bodies (Sector skill councils) all have a role in supporting continuous improvement across the skills development system in India. Most existing quality arrangements in India focus on up front audits rather than committing to the principle of continuously improving the quality of their training/education outcomes by building on the existing quality requirements. There are major variations in the standard of facilities, access to current equipment and the skills of teachers in the various stakeholders involved in VET and general education in India across geographies. Large urban based Training/Education Institutions are more likely to have access to skilled staff and good training equipment than in rural and remote areas. This disparity means that the quality framework must offer avenues for all training/education organisations to participate at different levels with the goal of progressing to common higher levels of quality through incremental improvement. The NQAF involves an incremental approach for training/education providers which will not adversely affect training and education efforts required to meet nationally set training targets.

Best education learning

“I will continue to speak from my grave” said the Mahatma while speaking about the growing discord and intolerance among his countrymen.

Gandhi’s martyrdom on 30th January, 1948 though put an end to his earthly sojourn, the dead Gandhi emerged stronger and formidable and continues to influence humanity in varying degree and the prophetic statement of Nehru announcing the passing away of Gandhi seems to have come true. Nehru said,

“…The light has gone out, I said, yet I was wrong .For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”

It is nearly seven decades now since Gandhi was assassinated and there are all kinds of discussions both in India and abroad on what Gandhi left for humanity and whether his teachings would survive the test of time.

The last days of Gandhi were marked by deep distress and pain in him on account of the unexpected turn of events which had led to the vivisection of his dear country for whose freedom from the foreign masters he led a nonviolent mass struggle of unprecedented scale and magnitude. When freedom came at last, to his utter dismay he saw his dream of a united India crumbling and the India of his dream enmeshed in internecine quarrel and bloodshed.

Undaunted by these unexpected developments Gandhi the lonely pilgrim marched ahead with tremendous amount of optimism. His last major initiative for peace and harmony in the blood-soaked regions of Noakhali was an eloquent expression of his profound belief that a divided society, fighting on trivial issues has no future. He also taught through this campaign that everyone can be a peace-maker and a peace-builder.

Gandhi’s campaigns in Noakhali for peace, harmony and unity, echoed Gurudev Tagore’s prophetic assertion ’Eklo Chalo’(Walk Alone)and Swami Vivekananda’s electrifying urging’ Arise, Awake and Stop not till the goal is reached’ infused new hopes and resolve in Indians to stand united for a new India. Gandhi’s belief that what the nation achieved on 15th August was political freedom from the British and the struggle must continue for economic freedom and social justice very well reflected his well-orchestrated resolve to remain a fortress of goodwill and bridge of harmony.

What even the passionate critic of Gandhi cannot miss while reading developments in the post Gandhi era is the string of activities inspired by Gandhi in different parts of the world. If not in very significant measure, there are now very few countries in the world where something or other in the name of Gandhi is not being organised. In short, there is a global nonviolent awakening after Gandhi.

The core of Gandhi legacy

It is widely accepted now that the core of the legacy Gandhi left for humanity is that he taught us that truth is greater than all worldly possessions, and that slavery, violence, injustice and disparities are inconsistent with truth.

What Gandhi left is not a set of theoretical formulations, on the contrary, a carefully evolved vision of an organically sound and mutually supportive and respecting independent world order.

Change with consent
The six decades of Gandhi’s public life in three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia), spearheading various movements for new social and political milieu where all men and women will be treated as brothers and sisters, demonstrated with convincing sincerity a revolutionary zeal for change – change with consent – hitherto un-experimented in national or international politics. Tolerance, consent, reconciliation and a profound faith in the unity of all sentient and non-sentient beings have been the core of the Gandhian vision of a world where harmony among the various segments of God’s creation would nurture the essential goodness in each one – both the visible and invisible threads – uniting the entire humanity into a single entity. Does this sound Utopian?

Yes, quite a large number of people believe that the new social order Gandhi envisioned is too idealistic and an unattainable utopia only fit enough for academic and semantic interpretations.

Gandhi’s critique of the emerging
Gandhi warned humanity of the growing injustice and deepening imbalance as early as 1909 when he pointed out in his seminal work ‘Hind Swaraj’, that unprincipled growth will land humanity on the brink of disaster. Even his own close disciples raised their eyebrows of disagreement when he said this.
The evil that we have to fight is within us and that we are ignorant of it, is the basic problem according to him. Motifs such as give and take, live and let live, love and to be loved have become clichés now in the new dictionary compiled by the champions of unlimited growth. This can be possible only if we adopt a holistic vision of life and ensure equality and justice which presupposes the simple truth that each individual is unique and we should respect his/her individuality and let him/her maintain each one’s uniqueness and what applies to an individual should apply to a nation or at a global level.

All about the budget

After the bold step of demonetization in November, three months later, finance minister Arun Jaitley  unveiled a budget which aimed at helping  the poor and middle class with hikes in government spending and tax breaks.

The Government announced spending increases on rural areas, infrastructure and on fighting poverty, and sought to allay fears that the effects of demonetisation would not spill over into the next financial year, ahead of polls to crucial state assembly elections where the cash ban and the Modi Government’s report card at the centre will be electoral issues.

Mr Jaitley announced halving of the basic personal income tax rate to 5 % for those earning between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, and cut taxes on small firms annual earnings of  up to Rs 50 crore that account for 96 %  of India’s businesses to 25 % from a current 30 %. While imposing a 10 % surcharge on those earning between Rs 50 lakh and a crore. A 15 % `rich’ surcharge already exists on those earning more than a crore of rupees.

Officials explained that the lower tax rate at the entry scale was meant to give relief as well as to encourage people such as small traders etc., who  were avoiding paying taxes to pay up and avoid being troubled by the taxman.

The stock markets, relieved at the absence of a feared increase in tax on dividends and a new impost on stock market transactions, welcomed the budget with the Sensex  leaping close to 486 points to close at an over 3-month high of 28,142, on the budget day.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is believed to have personally held a series of meetings with secretaries in the run up to the budget himself termed the Union budget presented by Mr Jaitley as “Uttam” (Great).


With economic growth slowing down to 7.1 % in financial year 2016-2017, the finance minister had a tough task on hand – he needed to push the envelope and inject more money into the economy to try pep up growth, please the  middle class left unhappy by the cash ban with tax sops, woo farmers bitter because of lack of cash during the sowing season and help traders and small businesses trying to limp back to normalcy.

The Government decided as a consequence to raise capital investment by a whopping 25.4 %, hoping this would lead to a multiplier effect in the economy. Some Rs 2.41 lakh crore was promised as spending on rail, road and shipping. While the farmers’ were promised Rs 10 lakh crore in credit and better crop insurance coverage. The finance minister also announced a 24 %  hike in rural and farm spending as part of Modi’s commitment to double farm incomes over five years.

A series of sops were announced for affordable housing schemes, realtors were promised industry status, which would make loans cheaper and easier for them and a bond was promised investment in which would be set off against capital gains liability for those selling their property.

To woo people for using cash and promote digital economy, Mr Jaitley gave effect to the Prime Minister’s promise to reduce presumptive taxes on small traders from 8 % to 6 %, while cash purchases over

Rs 3 lakh were banned. Firms will now on be allowed to claim expenditure in cash, only up to Rs 10,000 and cash donations to charities limited to Rs 2,000. 

However, to try and garner money for these spending plans and give-aways, the Finance Minister has had to ease his fiscal deficit target from an earlier set 3 % to 3.2 % or by over Rs 32,000 crore.

 Election Bonds

Possibly one of the few bold moves taken in the budget was a move to sanitise political funding by introducing an Electoral Bonds, which can be bought from the market with legitimate money through cheques or through digital transactions from designated banks and given to the political party of the buyer’s choice.

The electoral bonds are an  unique experiment for which the Government will have to bring legislative changes, which officials have said are in the offing. The bonds will be authorised by the Reserve Bank of India and a scheduled bank or banks  will be authorized to issue the electoral bonds. Anyone who wishes to contribute to election funding can buy the bonds with legitimate funds. It can then be contributed to any recognized political party’s designated account. The party can then cash it for its election expenses. By buying the bond and then giving it to the party of his or her choice and individual or firm is able to maintain a veil secrecy in who he or she is funding.

The Government announced in the budget that cash contributions to political parties will be limited to 2000 instead of the earlier limit of `20,000 and that contributions above that can either be through cheques or electronic transfers or by way of anonymous bonds which can be legitimately bought and then given to any political party of a firm’s or individual’s choice. The move comes just days ahead of  key elections to state assemblies including India’s most populous state – Uttar Pradesh.

In another bold announcement, the finance minister said the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, a stodgy bureaucrats club which vets foreign investments would be scrapped  a move that is sure to cheer investors struggling against India’s red tape, which has kept India at a lowly 130th position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, despite jumping 12 spots in the last year.