Gerry’s News Digest 187: Referendum news, high heels trouble, sugar tax (3rd June, 2016)
Hi, this is Gerry, with my News Digest for Friday 3rd June 2016. A month ago I saw my grandchildren and got a cold, last week I saw them again and I’ve got another cold, so sorry about my voice again. I’d like to say a big thank you to Peter and Käthi for their very interesting comments after the last show. I’m glad that you found my topics stimulating, and I hope that I’ve found something to please you this time as well. Thanks, too, to Monika who also sent a message.
On this show, I thought it was time to take another look at how the EU referendum campaign is going, although I’m sure you’re getting a lot of coverage  in Switzerland. If the UK votes to leave the EU, I’m wondering if this will then provoke anybody else to leave. One thing that’s not clear to me from the “Leave” campaign is whether they want the rest of the EU to carry on  as it is. Or do they think the world would be better off  without the EU? Perhaps the EU might be restricted to the Eurozone alone? And what would be in Switzerland’s best interests? Lots of questions and no clear answers for the time being. My second topic is simpler, and it’s probably one with a clear answer. It’s to do with dress codes at work. And my third story is about a new UK tax which is due to be introduced in two years.
In 20 days exactly from the day that this show goes out, it’ll be referendum day in the UK. Thursday 23rd June is the day. Thursday is the traditional day for elections in the UK, while in most other European countries it’s Sunday. Why Thursday in the UK, I wondered, so I went to the web to find out. Firstly, there’s no law or regulation that says it must be Thursday. It’s the Prime Minister, the head of the government, who chooses. So why does he or she always choose Thursday? Here are some of the possible answers. People used to get paid on Fridays and go to the pub and get drunk, so not a good day for responsible behaviour. If you had elections on Sundays when everybody used to go to church, it was thought this might give the churches too big a chance to influence people. Thursdays, on the other hand, were popular days for markets and so everybody would be in town anyway and they could vote while they were there. Moreover , if you had an election or a vote on a Thursday, the result would be known on Friday, so that a new government could be formed over the weekend and there’d be no time of uncertainty when the financial markets and so on re-opened on Monday. Today, none of these arguments make much sense. We live increasingly in a world where everything is 24/7 – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – so it’s just a matter of tradition, like a lot of our politics.
In any case, on 23rd June the UK will vote about its membership of the EU. At the moment, as I prepare this podcast some weeks ahead of the referendum, the result looks as if it’ll be close. The “Remain” camp seems to have a slight lead  over the “Leave” camp, but it’s not substantial . The establishment , led by the Prime Minister and including the Bank of England, the bosses of the biggest companies and so on is urging  us to stay in the EU because we’ll be “stronger, safer and better off ” in rather than out. The Remain side is also supported by nearly all the Labour party and the Scottish National Party as well as  international organisations such as the IMF  and world leaders like President Obama. On the other side, the Leave campaign tells us the opposite. We’re not better off in the EU: our economy and security would be improved if we regained the sovereignty  that we’ve given up as a member of the EU. The EU is both a curb  on our national freedom and a brake  on our economic growth. The statistics fly backwards and forwards. To begin with ordinary people said they wanted facts and figures: they’re now getting plenty of them, but they’re all contradictory.
Immigration and the control of our borders  is a big issue, but it’s not always so in areas where there are the highest numbers of immigrants. London, for example, has the most immigrants (but also a strong economy) and it seems to be largely pro-EU. By contrast, in areas of England where traditional industries have suffered and where there are immigrants doing badly paid work, the Eurosceptics have a lot of support. One example of that is where industrial agriculture has replaced traditional farming. Immigrants organised by gang-masters  provide the cheap labour. They’re not popular.
What’s noticeable about the campaign so far is that it’s been mainly Conservative versus Conservative. David Cameron versus Boris Johnson, for example. UKIP have been rather pushed to the side. Labour have been very quiet and the Liberal Democrats have disappeared. Perhaps this will change as we get closer to the big day.
Do you remember the famous UBS dress code ? I talked about it in my News Digests 73 and 74, and then there was the story about the high heels scandal at Cannes last year. That was in my show Nr.169. Well, we’ve got a new high heels story in the news here. It concerns a young woman by the name of Nicola Thorp who got a job in London as a receptionist for PwC, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the multinational accountancy and professional services company. When she arrived at work on her first day, wearing flat shoes , she was told that she had to wear high heels between 2 and 4 inches tall. She replied that, in view of the fact that  she was going to spend most of her day standing, she didn’t want to wear heels. The response of the company, according to Ms Thorp, was to send her home without pay to go and buy a pair of shoes that matched their specifications. Ms Thorp went home, but instead of buying shoes that she didn’t want, she started an online petition to the government in protest. Her petition is entitled: Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work. It reads: “It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will. Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option  to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist.” If such a petition gains over 100,000 signatures, Parliament will consider debating the issue. Ms Thorp’s petition had attracted over 135,000 signatures the last time I looked, so she’s definitely touched a nerve  with the public.
The argument is that if an employer cannot legally discriminate between the sexes when recruiting, paying, managing, promoting or sacking staff, it should not have a dress code that’s gendered . If high heels are a requirement, then men should also be required to wear them. There are also health and safety issues  when it comes to heels. The law, however, as it stands, allows companies in England and Wales to set separate dress codes for men and women at work, as long as they're "reasonable" and there's an "equivalent level of smartness". If high heels are seen as an essential part of a smart look, the company might be justified in requiring them, but if they like them because they’re “sexy” in some way the company would be in breach of  the law. So what impression do high heels make? Personally, I wouldn’t want to be made to wear them, what about you?
A secondary issue is the bad publicity that this case has garnered  for PwC, but it’s worth noting that PwC, like most big companies, outsources its front-of-house reception services to other companies. So it wasn’t PwC who sent Nicola Thorp home but a company called Portico. One wonders why companies don’t insist on direct control over their reception areas where clients get their first impressions.
And now for a story that I’ve talked about before, and which has become government policy. In two years the UK is going to have a new tax on sugary drinks. I’ve talked before about the latest thinking on the links between sugar consumption and medical problems such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and so on. In the latest government budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he’s responding to demands from the health sector to do something about reducing our sugar consumption by imposing a tax on what is our biggest single source of excess sugar: high sugar drinks, which are particularly popular with children and teenagers. The drinks that’ll be affected are things like classic Coke and Pepsi, energy drinks, Fanta and tonic water. The tax will not be on the product as such  but on the company. The tax will be on the volume of sugary drinks that a company produces or imports. The tax will be in two bands: one for drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100 millilitres, and the second band for drinks with more than 8g. The price of a can of Coca-Cola will rise by about 10%. Milk-based drinks as well as pure fruit juices will not be taxed. The drinks industry has two years to get ready, and I’m sure they’ll be lobbying until the last moment against the tax. A feature of the tax will be that the money raised will be kept separate from general taxation and it’ll be used specifically to promote sport in primary schools.
So will the tax have its intended effect of reducing national sugar consumption? Other countries that have already tried something similar include Mexico and Hungary where the short-term result at least has been positive. The debate goes on, however, about the morality of the government trying to control what we consume. We can come back to that another day, because we’re out of time today. Don’t forget the vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. And remember if you’ve got anything to say about any of my topics, write to me via the website: www.podclub.ch. Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. I’ll be back in a month - with the referendum result! Thanks for listening, and take care!
 coverage: news (the amount of time and space that the media give to a subject)
 to carry on: to continue
 better off: here: in an improved situation
 moreover: in addition (a phrase to introduce another point)
 a slight lead: a small winning advantage (when you are a little bit ahead of the other side)
 substantial: here: big
 the establishment: a name to describe the elite that controls a country
 to urge: to persuade, to advise somebody strongly about what they should do
 better off: here: richer
 as well as: in addition to
 IMF: International Monetary Fund
 sovereignty: here: the right of a country to rule itself
 curb: something that restricts or limits
 brake: something that stops or slows down (a machine, a car, etc.)
 border: frontier
 gang-master: here: a person who supplies farmers, etc. with groups of workers to do informal or temporary work
 dress code: a list of rules about what you are allowed or not allowed to wear
 flat shoes: shoes that don’t have high heels
 in view of the fact that: because
 to have the option: to have the right to choose
 to touch a nerve: to say or do something that affects people strongly because they are already sensitive about it
 to be gendered: here: to discriminate between the sexes
 issue: here: problem or question that needs to be answered
 to be in breach of: to break
 to garner: to collect, to harvest, to pick up
 the product as such: the product itself, precisely the product