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Work. Life. Balance.

“A key function of media is the mass production of ignorance.”

  • Prof Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group

 

Having locked myself in the loo, as it were, by signing a petition got up by cleaning workers demanding the £9/hr London Living Wage as opposed to the National Living Wage of £7.22, which any fule kno exceeds the Adult Minimum Wage by a pound and tuppence, or something like that, a ‘personal appeal’ on behalf of two suspended workers contracted to Top Shop women’s outfitters (via an agency called Britannia Services) that turns out to be part of a Union-sponsored campaign, and never being allowed to hear the last of it, I’ve been cautiously interested in the Parliamentary Business Committee’s investigation into working practices within Mr Mike Ashley’s gargantuan retail empire, Sports Direct, especially at its Shirebrook, Derbyshire warehouse.

Here, it appears, female employees terrified of losing contract hours have been giving birth in the toilets, heedless of rules that require them to have their pay docked if they spend too long on comfort breaks; and other, seemingly astonishing, punitive management practices amounting to corporate abuse, including a ‘points’ system (six points and you’re out) that penalises workers for clocking-off on time, as well as fining them for every minute they clock-in late, or day they take off sick; charging workers £10 a month for administering their payroll via free prepaid bank debit cards, and so on – mean-spirited little fiddles that are causing high levels of stress and anxiety. Acts of physical violence by managers have also been alleged; while workers are intensively searched for contraband at the end of their shift, sometimes taking hours for which they get no extra pay.

External union calculations suggest that taking all this into account, workers at Sports Direct are being paid a lot less than the minimum wage; a claim the taxman is investigating. (I wonder what they would have made of my job at the ‘stately home’, where I took no holiday for five years, was back at work the next morning after having surgery under general anaesthetic, and was on-call literally 24 hours a day – on a 37.5 hours contract at £14k a year!)

Grilled by the Committee, the controversial Mr Ashley has admitted that many of the practices seem to be wrong, but states that the company has grown too vast for him to be aware of everything that goes on. However, he feels that the very high number of ambulance call-outs recorded to his premises is probably just due to overreaction by concerned managers….

I wish MPs would take a wider remit than investigating this one company, as these Victorian management practices are absolutely endemic in our modern world of low-cost, high-intensity retail distribution.

A friend of mine, Simon (58) took what he expected to be a part-time job at our local branch of B&Q’s DIY stores empire, only to leave after just a few weeks because of the dreadful quality of management, the incompetence for which he frequently had to cover, the compulsory extra hours demanded of him on pain of being fired, and the bullying, which he was not prepared to put up with.

I could use some extra money too. Half-heartedly pursuing a notification I received from Indeed.com yesterday of a part-time opening at Curry’s electrical store, a branch of the Dixon’s Carphone Warehouse retail group, just across the carpark from B&Q (now closed), I read review after review – over 100 – posted online by former employees (none actually from this branch) who gave the employer the minimum single star-rating, testifying to management incompetence, exploitative hours, refusals of leave of absence or holidays, total non-delivery of promised ‘quality training’, high staff turnover, dishonest selling of inappropriate extras and insurances and, again, bullying.

Interspersed with these deeply disturbing and negative comments, however, were 4- and 5-star reviews, stating what a brilliant company Dixon’s is to work for, and how happy and well-trained the staff are. Now, as readers of this, muh bogl, are all-too aware, I’ve been a journalist and news editor, spent 15 years as a commercial copywriter, run my own advertising agency (as Creative Director) and worked for six years as an editor in publishing companies. It’s perfectly obvious to me from the style of those anomalous reviews that they’ve been professionally copywritten, many by the same hand, presumably deliberately in order to mislead prospective job applicants and counter negative impressions of the company.

Prove me wrong, Dixon’s.

Amazon, too, has come in for similar criticisms over recent years concerning abusive working practices and exploitation of casual workers at its distribution depots; while van drivers working for courier companies may be paid as little as 45 pence per drop, and are expected to run their own vehicles as self-employed workers, contrary to HMRC rules on self-employment.

A lot of people are paying dearly for our modern world of instant gratification, stuff picked and delivered to your door in impossibly short order. And a few billionaires are being created from it.

Killing the goose

I have trouble understanding the way pay grades and scales and ‘spines’ operate, and all the other, highly technical bollocks invented by the Human Resources conspiracy to cut the wages bills of large companies and institutions. I suspect I’m not alone.

I had it explained to me the other day, for instance, how the HR department of my son’s part-time employer is recalibrating all the contracts to compensate the company for having agreed to the Chancellor’s demand that employers should all pay, not the minimum wage but the higher  ‘living wage’. I still don’t fully understand, as it appears he is being compensated for working fewer hours by being paid a much more generous rate even than I am! Another recent petition was got up to castigate B&Q for also cutting back on contract hours and playing various dirty tricks such as abolishing the higher rates for antisocial hours and overtime  to ensure the living wage does not cut into their profits, at the expense of their workforce. Surely not what the Chancellor intended.

My own part-time employer first tried to pretend they had carried out a workflow study showing that we didn’t deserve to be paid £9 an hour – a figure that had remained unchanged since 2007. Challenged on that, they confessed that the person who they claimed had carried out the study no longer worked there. A contracts review in 2014 led to an increase in the basic pay of 76 pence an hour, and an admission that the employer ought to have been paying us holiday pay under the EU directive on contracted part-time employment, which they then started to do. The HR department is now desperately trying to work out a new formula by which our holiday pay (paid pro rata at 1/27th the annual salary) becomes part of the £9.76 an hour basic rate, so that can be cut to £7.20, in line with the ‘living wage’!

(I was amused to learn too, that my contract runs until 2099, in which year I confidently expect to celebrate my 150th birthday!)

In the meantime our duties and responsibilities have increased, but thanks to some cunning planning involving the use of a new computer system the number of hours we are required to work and the number of venues across which we are asked to work, hence the number of people required,  have been reduced by about a third.

There will come a time, I foresee, when these efficiencies are going to kill the goose that, as it were, does the work…. There is, after all, little point getting out of bed in the morning and slogging in for only a couple of hours’ work in a day, paid at £7.20 an hour, that barely covers the cost of your lunch.  I thank the Lord however that my managers are relatively efficient, appreciative, forgiving, intelligent, adaptable, kind and mild-mannered; and yet the work somehow still gets done, and done well.

See, Mr Ashley, it’s not impossible.

 

Work. Life. Balance.

I came across this next bit in my unpublished Drafts folder, from May 2014. It seems so utterly fresh and relevant today:

With which of the following propositions do you most agree?

I cannot get a job because:

A

all them foreigners are coming over here from Romania expecting to live on benefits and get a house and work for less than minimum wage, while our Kylie has been waiting on the council list for six years and she’s got two kids who can’t get a place in nursery school because of all them moslims and it’s all the fault of Camoron and Europe.

B

none of us is qualified to get a job and no-one will employ us because we are a bunch of useless, semi-literate sofa-dwellers who have rejected every opportunity we were given by the state to benefit from free education up to tertiary stage in favour of stupidly imagining we could become pop stars or well paid footballers without having to do a tap of work.

C

I cannot continue keeping up my skills in the race against new technology applications, automation and expert systems, and do work at the same time. I cannot guarantee maintaining my career trajectory in a culture of zero-hours contracts and interim placements; of ‘labour-market flexibility’ geared to the needs of CEOs under pressure to deliver excessive dividends to shareholders at a time of ultra-low interest rates.

Now, I wonder where that draft was going?

 

Hate me, kill me, but don’t ignore me

The 0ther day, I Posted two great Posts about the rapidly approaching referendum on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union. They took many hours to research and write.

I am greatly fearful we shall vote to leave, because the Great British public is too compromised to understand the real issues and too poorly educated to know what happens whenever we turn our backs on Europe.

Not only has nobody read the Posts, according to WordPress’ Suicide Watch nobody has read anything at all on this, muh li’l bogl, for the past two days. This, despite me discovering that you can put tags on your Posts that get people excited.

Each time anyone anywhere says they don’t believe in logical reason, another bogler dies.

Remember that.

 

Life’s lottery

The deadline for voter registration for the EU referendum expired at midnight last night.

So great was the demand for registrations that the website crashed about two hours before the deadline. Immediately, 38 Degrees got up a petition to extend the deadline. Eighty thousand signatures in five minutes flat produced a 48-hour extension, as if from a magic hat of Government grace.

I’m sanguine about it. I can’t understand why, every year, British holidaymakers wait practically until they’ve turned up at the airport before thinking to apply for a passport, and then make a scene when the passport office is snowed under with applications every summer and there’s a five-week delay. I’ve had a passport since I was 15, they’re valid for 16 years, the previous iteration would have run out this year so I sent off for a new one in March last year, not at the height of the holiday season. It took only three days to arrive. I  seldom go anywhere abroad, but if I have to, I’ve got a passport! Having a passport is just one of those things you do, a rite of passage. It’s unbelievable that so many dimwits can’t manage in time to arrange the documents they need to get around.

Now we have a situation where everyone was told days, weeks and months ago that they had until midnight last night to apply for voter registration and there’s a huge fuss because the pathetic boobies found they couldn’t all apply at eleven fifty-eight. Maybe they thought it was a party, or something. (Postscriptum: according to BBC News, nearly HALF A MILLION people have registered in the past two days…. wtf???)

I simply can’t understand, given that we had nationwide local council, Assembly government and European Parliamentary elections only a month ago, in May, and a General Election 13 months ago, what the dimwits have been doing all this time? You only need to register once wherever you live. I’ve been a registered voter at this address for four and a half years since I moved in. All it took was, they sent me a form, I didn’t even have to ask, and I agreed, yes, I live here, I’m over 18,  and that was that. I get a voting card through the post a month before every election, and an annual request to confirm that I’m still alive (they’ll be mounting up on the doormat when my mummified remains are found by social workers, gnawed by cats.)

And I thought I was the most administratively challenged person on the planet.

How are these barely sentient procrastinating baboons able to understand the complex issues surrounding our membership of the EU, if they can’t arrange the simplest things in good time, like being a voter or owning a passport? Democracy isn’t something you spoon-feed people on demand, you can’t get it on Amazon or via Instagram. The Electoral Reform Society ought to look into it, such a massive last-minute voter registration online sounds highly fishy and could seriously affect the result.

These people don’t deserve a vote, they’re bound to get it wrong.

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