Friday, 16 May 2014

What would life be like if employees were valued and earned a Living Wage?

Downtrodden workers on zero hours contracts, agency employed, with a lack of stability, and totally uncertain futures have been a staple of this Coalition Government from day 1. When Thatcher first decided to privatise the railways, and utilities back in the 80's it's been a race by many employers to  pay bottom rate wages, but demand ever more flexibility from staff. On the front line we have seen those results.

Here on the Coast a local holiday company employs cleaners to clean chalets on minimum wage and on zero hours contracts. Each cleaner is given 6 minutes to clean a chalet. This has resulted in major complaints from holidaymakers from finding bathrooms in disgusting states of uncleanliness to people finding drugs under the beds. I spoke to one of the cleaners.

"Do you like your job?"
"No it's a means to an end. They pay us peanuts, change our working hours rota every week and give us 6 minutes to supposedly "clean" a chalet. None of us can be bothered. It gets a quick flick over and a hoover but nothing more. I've no loyalty to the company. They know we're easy to replace.  They employ cleaners under 21 so they don't have to pay the adult minimum wage either to cut costs.Everything is about cutting corners, paying the lowest wages and so they get all they deserve as thousands of people complain every year."
" What if you were paid a decent wage? A Living Wage that took you off tax credits and more time to do the job?"
" That would change everything. I'd take a lot more care in my job, knowing I was valued by the company. I could give the chalets a thorough clean, so standards would go up. The company would get more bookings and the admin over complaints would go down."
"So employer/employee would be in a win/win situation?"
"Definitely! More staff would stay too, so they wouldn't have to keep training up more new staff to do the job."

Sounds easy. Value your employees, pay a living wage and your company reaps the benefits. But we are living in a Britain where workplace rights and legal aid to fight tribunals have been stripped away by this Government in less than 4 years.

Commuters are paying thousands of pounds to stand up in dirty trains whose staff have been cut to the bone, standards are low and customer service a relic of history. Since privatisation our utility bills have soared and soared until we are in the state where people are suffering from fuel poverty and choosing between heating or eating during cold weather.

It is no wonder customers complain of poor customer service in shops, caf├ęs and bars where workers are treated as numbers. Amazon work practices where a  bracelet on workers wrists inform management of how quickly a worker is performing and how long they take for a toilet break, is surely out of some futuristic parody of 1984. Sadly it is not the case. By reducing workers to stressful working conditions and low pay, the company certainly does not get the best it can from its workforce.

Minimum pay is often coupled with minimum training and no ongoing staff development. "Get 'em in, show 'em the bare minimum of training to get by and get them productive in as short a time frame as possible" is the mantra in many workplaces today. You will have experienced the tired repetitive refrain of " Have a nice day" barely audible and muttered as the weary employee "processes" the next customer order, had your coffee slopped down hurriedly as the manic barista rushes to serve the next person in the queue. Employees, undervalued, underpaid with no hope of personal development result in lost profits and complaints for high street chains. Wouldn't it be different if  staff were valued and paid decently?

A supermarket employee told me of Halloween and Christmas celebrations instore. Staff were asked to voluntarily come into work in fancy dress costume for the 2 events, paid for out of their own
pockets. Staff who did this were held up and singled out at a staff meeting as being the epitome of the
stores philosophy in good customer service and team relations. Staff who had not participated were
made to feel that their non-participation wasn't what the company wanted, and the employee I spoke to said supervisors made her feel very uncomfortable as she simply could not afford to hire a costume. Young employees are being made to feel these are normal working conditions and relations when they are not.

BBC3 recently broadcast a programme of young unemployed Jobseekers  parachuted into elderly Christchurch in  Dorset for  work experience entitled "Invasion of the Jobsnatchers". If they "matched up" to the job over the 8 weeks they could be offered jobs there. It was more benefit porn type TV and some of the "jobs" on offer included a full time Saturday job only or seasonal employment, but one Jobseeker, Carl Owen, was given work experience as a butcher. He then went on to be given an apprenticeship in the independent shop as a butcher. What came across was the owners genuine interest in Carl, not only showing him the job and training him, but socialising outside work with him and caring for Carl's  well being.  Carl is now settled in Christchurch in a decent job on decent pay offering  excellent customer service. Not so hard is it?

Even Teachers and the police  and firefighters are having their salaries reduced and graded whilst being asked to do increasing amounts of work under stressful conditions for longer. Entry level teachers are on approximately £21k, police on £19k and firefighters on £21k. In the case of firefighters would anyone want a 66 year old firefighter carting you out of a burning building? The job is arduous, dangerous  and requires ongoing  physical training, for little reward. Isn't it time we valued our firefighters and police? Our teachers are under intense pressure and public scrutiny and get no support from Gove, just a war of words on "weeding out bad teachers" but it  is no coincidence that when teachers were valued, respected and better paid, educational standards were much higher?

Ed Miliband has promised that those caring for the sick and elderly in our communities must no longer be held to the " 15 minute care rule" for each visit. That is admirable and a step in the right direction. But let's value the care given. Let's  go further and eradicate   the minimum wage, the poor working and stressful conditions these carers endure. The horrors of the elderly dying of thirst in hospitals, sick people being put to bed at 5pm as that is the 15 minute slot the carer has for them as he/she has  another 20 other patients to get to, the social workers weighed down with too many caseloads and so  they miss the abused and murdered child.

The accelerated race to pay the bottom line for the most output has got us nowhere. Society is hugely worse off thanks to privatisation, lack of workplace rights, low wages and  undervalued employees. This is something that needs reversing now. I aim to keep campaigning and shouting out to bring this change. There is another way and never in our history has it been so very much needed.