G-7 nations for more sanctions on Russia; For Britain, a low-pay ‘recovery’ built on the back of working poor; How suicide and politics mix in India

1 G-7 nations for more sanctions on Russia (San Francisco Chronicle) The US and other nations in the Group of Seven have agreed to “move swiftly” to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. In a joint statement by the White House, the G-7 nations said they will act urgently to intensify “targeted sanctions.” The statement said the G-7 will also continue to prepare broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors if Moscow takes more aggressive action. The White House said US sanctions could be levied as early as Monday.

The announcement came as top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and Moscow said that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev. The G-7 nations said they were moving forward on the targeted sanctions now because of the urgency of securing plans for Ukraine to hold presidential elections next month. The penalties are expected to target wealthy Russian.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other ococcupied facilities. Ukraine’s reaction was swift. “The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.


2 For Britain, a low-pay ‘recovery’ built on the back of working poor (Katie Allen in The Guardian) Britain’s rise up the growth rankings has attracted plenty of attention, but its position near the top of a much less appealing record table remains little discussed. Britain is a leader at low pay too. One in five workers earns less than the living wage – higher than the minimum wage but the figure deemed by campaigners to be the actual bare minimum for getting by. The incidence of low pay in the UK puts it high on a league table of mostly rich countries watched by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

We have low pay, insecure zero-hours jobs and surge in underemployment – where people work fewer hours than they would like. Britain has a growing problem of in-work poverty – a problem more likely to hit the less-qualified, young people, women and ethnic minorities. This presents a conundrum for politicians, and sits uncomfortably with the widely espoused principle that work is the surest route out of poverty. The reality is that, for many families, work and poverty are not mutually exclusive.

This sorry development has both moral and economic repercussions. On the former, there is wide-ranging evidence that many remain trapped in working poverty because they are less likely to be offered training that could help them move up to better-paid roles. From an economic perspective, the drawbacks for businesses of low pay are high staff turnover, higher absenteeism, poorer morale and lower productivity. The bigger picture for the UK economy relates to productivity, which is improving more slowly than in other advanced economies.

There are no easy answers to this growing in-work poverty problem, as the labour market expert John Philpott points out in his paper for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. But policymakers and employers can take concrete steps in three areas. Firstly, those employers that can afford to pay more must pay more. Employers that cannot raise pay can give more to their workers in other ways. The final area is the urgent need to bring legislation up to date with a changing labour market. But fundamentally, what really needs to change is the misguided view that any job is better than no job. Jobcentres must be measured on the kind of jobs they fill, not just the numbers of unemployed they cut.


3 How suicide and politics mix in India (Sonora Jha in The New York Times) As politicians scramble for India’s 815 million votes in the most expensive and closely contested general election in the nation’s history, an unexpected protest is rumbling from what was once one of the country’s most placid voter blocs: its farmers. The protest is inflamed by rising attention to the shocking suicide rate on India’s hardscrabble farms.

Since 1995, more than 290,000 farmers have killed themselves. Though that figure, compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau, is sketchy at best, perceptions are what counts in politics. Assertions that the suicide rate among the country’s agricultural workers is nearly three times the national average are widely believed in India, but precise figures are difficult to come by. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 170,000 Indians in all walks of life commit suicide every year; the Indian government put the figure at about 135,000 in 2010.

That is misleading, not least because suicide is a crime in India, and as such falls under the purview of the National Crime Records Bureau. The social stigma it brings, and the risk that it may mean a loss of government compensation, feeds a family’s reluctance to report such deaths. Whether or not perception exceeds reality, there is no denying that India’s farmers have taken a battering in recent years. The global competition that came with the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 has cut into earnings.

Thousands of farmers and their families gathered on March 15 at Bhimkund village in Vidarbha, where a farmer named Kiran Kolvate led the protest. “All political parties across the spectrum have totally ignored the plight of half a million farmers,” she declared, urging the crowd to vote “None of the Above” (NOTA).That rallying cry is spreading. On April 7, the day India began five weeks of voting, people from 25 farming villages in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh declared that they too would mark their ballots NOTA. In choosing “None of the Above,” many farmers are demanding that India’s leaders take action to end the misery undermining one of the key sectors of the economy.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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