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They are becoming a familiar sight in parts of our big cities. Cyclists and cars delivering hot food for firms like Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Hungry House and others. All of them make use of the latest technology to link customers to restaurants and takeaways, and riders and drivers to orders. We sit at home, use an app to choose and the food arrives. It is the same technology that is changing the taxi industry, showing us where our vehicle is, when it will arrive and who's driving it as well as allowing friends and family to track our journey - a wonderful thing for worried parents late at night!

But what about those who are doing the delivering and the driving? I talked recently to a taxi driver who said that he had averaged just £5.50 an hour over the past year, which is less than the minimum wage. If you are only doing 5 hours a week while studying or to top up other earnings that's one thing - though still tough - but it's something else again when it's your entire income. And being regarded as self-employed - even though this can be a full-time job - there's no pension, sick pay, holiday pay or maternity/paternity leave and there's little chance of getting a mortgage if earnings are so uncertain. The same is true of people on zero hours contracts.

At the moment the law recognises three different categories of people who work - employees, workers and the self-employed - but the law is pretty complex in deciding who falls into which category. The biggest differences are to do with the type of work that is done and the rights that people have to things like sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. There are now a lot more self-employed people in our economy than was the case 20 years ago.

Technology will continue to develop. It will make possible things we can only dream of today. We cannot stop its advance - as the Luddites learned over 200 years ago when they tried to smash the new textile machinery - but we need to make sure it works in society's interests. And that means adapting our laws and our approach to new circumstances.

When it comes to earning a living, the question for us is this. How do we balance flexibility that works for businesses and - sometimes - for the person doing the work, while at the same time ensuring that people are fairly treated, get looked after if they are sick, can get a paid holiday and are able to save for a pension and take out a mortgage? These are not new questions. Just look back in history at the struggle to win rights for people at work, including a statutory minimum wage which only became law in 1999. Trade unions played a big part in that campaign and in many others over the years for sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, maternity and paternity leave, and equal rights for part-time workers. And yet today almost none of the riders and the drivers we see on our streets, and very few of those in low-paid, casual and insecure work, are members of a trade union.

This is a challenge for trade unions too. All the evidence shows that we get better terms and conditions in a unionised workplace and a helping hand when things go wrong. But how can unions organise in these new workplaces?

The law has a vital part to play in ensuring fairness at work, but so has self-organisation. And that's why joining a trade union is a very good place to start. 

First published in the May edition of South Leeds Life available online here http://www.southleedslife.com/back-issues-newspaper/

Hilary's Article for South Leeds Life - May 2018

They are becoming a familiar sight in parts of our big cities. Cyclists and cars delivering hot food for firms like Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Hungry House and others. All of...

Hilary and his fellow Leeds Labour MPs have written to the Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to ask them to reconsider their proposal to form a subsidiary company which would transfer thousands of NHS staff out of the organisation.

See the letter below.

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Teaching_Hospitals_letter_2.jpg

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Hilary and his fellow Leeds Labour MPs have written to the Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to ask them to reconsider their proposal to form a subsidiary...

A relative in the US recently emailed to tell me that ‘for reasons of security, privacy and ethics, I’ve dumped my Facebook account’. The revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have probably got us all thinking about who knows what about our lives. The internet is a wonderful thing, Facebook is a great means of keeping in touch and loyalty cards give us points or special deals, but as we are learning they also reveal a great deal of information about us and the lives we lead. We can share with the cyber-world our purchases, the telephone numbers of all our friends, our photos and our views on life and politics. All of this is harvested in order to target advertising at us. It's how companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon make their money.

The most important questions here are about transparency and consent. Should it be possible for us not to give consent for our information to be shared and yet remain a Facebook user, for example? And what should be done with the information we have consented to give, often without realising it? It's one thing to see adverts appear for sofas because we were recently browsing for one; it's quite another to think that our views - expressed privately to friends and family - will be used to send us politically tailored adverts, I think regulation is going to have to catch up with all this and soon.
 
I recently received an email from a constituent who said that he was unable to find an NHS dentist in South Leeds. It seems that of all the NHS dentists in our area, most of them have lists that are full and only about one in five are currently taking on new patients or referrals. 42% of children in England have not seen an NHS dentist in over a year and tooth decay is the single most common reason why children aged five to nine require admission to hospital. Yet the role of dental public health has been diminished in recent years.  That’s why we need to invest in children’s dental health so we can do something about the link between child ill-health and poverty.
 
Passers-by must have wondered why a crowd of us were standing around outside the newsagents in Town Street opposite the Belle Isle Working Men's Club on a recent Friday lunchtime. We were there to honour a son of Middleton who was a pioneer in astronomy. The occasion was the unveiling of the latest Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque to William Gascoigne, the astronomer and instrument maker who contributed hugely to our ability to see what lies beyond the confines of the earth and who lived in a house in Town Street, which long ago disappeared. I told the story of how Gascoigne met the Lancashire astronomer William Crabtree, who was much taken with Gascoigne's inventions. When he got home, Crabtree told his friend Jeremiah Horrocks about them. He then wrote to Gascoigne on 28 December 1640 saying,“My friend Mr. Horrox professeth that little touch which I gave him hath ravished his mind quite from itself and left him in an Exstasie between Admiration and Amazement. I beseech you Sir, slack not your Intentions for the Perfection of your begun Wonders.” Well if that isn't an encouragement to inventors the world over to keep going, then I don't know what is. And how did I find that wonderful quote? By searching on Wikipedia as I sat in my car in the club carpark. But that's the other side of the story – one of the internet's usefulness, as opposed to its intrusion.
 

First published in the April 2018 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here http://www.southleedslife.com/read-our-april-newspaper-online/

Hilary's Article for South Leeds Life - April 2018

A relative in the US recently emailed to tell me that ‘for reasons of security, privacy and ethics, I’ve dumped my Facebook account’. The revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica...

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