Blast It!

Blast-It Home

Broken Home


Page Links


Footloose business

New Rules for employment tribunals

Recent developments at work

The European Working Time Directive

Common features of the modern workplace

Note on Productivity

Income decline since 2008






























































































































































































































Blast-It Home

Broken Home




Work and Willing Slaves

So, what happened to work?

......flexible working, intensificaton, and self-regulation

The disappearance of British manufacturing, finished off during the Thatcher interregnum, destroyed the trades union movement, along with the last remnants of working class solidarity. Steel making, coal mining, ship building, along with thousands of small ancillary workshops and skilled craftsman. The old certainties of the work place, for instance, the 'closed shop' would not be found in the growing service sector, there, unions struggled to organise workers and workers were expected to turn their hands to more than one task.

Now work resembles something like it did when the 1847 Factories Act put in place the ten hour day. The only difference between now and then, the worker now can, apparently, choose to be flexible in a way that his forebears could only dream of.

Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, calls his approach to work “freedom and responsibility.” Employees are given the flexibility to do what they do best and take as many days off as they like. The catch is, when employees don’t live up to expectations; they get “a generous severance package.”

Apart from flexibility, intensification has made a return to the modern workplace, everyone doing more work in the same space of time. And here we see another difference with times past, the increase in work intensity is not being policed by an overseer, it's discretionary effort, people working harder having persuaded themselves that the 'work' requires nothing less than maximum effort. In a sense the worker is continually evaluating his own performance, whether he is being watched or not, continually evaluating his performance against that of co-workers.

This evaluative process certainly negates the need for management supervision in many workplaces. The worker has fully absorbed the business psycho babble about self-realisation through work, you are what you do, therefore, the more you do, the more you become - you know it makes sense. However, the compulsion to do more, combined with competition between workers avails them little in most circumstances, rather it is likely to have dire consequences. In Taiwan they are having second thoughts about overwork, there have been reported deaths, mainly among men between 30 and 40 years old.

There is deep irony in the rise of the self-regulating worker, who organises his own time and pace; this almost seems socialist except that under capitalism the worker works as if being watched, out of fear. The process demonstrates that the workers can organise without managers, perhaps they may also thrive without the need to share the profits with coupon clippers (euphemistically known as share holders).

Traditionally, organising one's pace and time was the original rationale for self-employment. Over the past decade the number of self-employed people in the UK has grown 26% over the last decade to 4.8 million. (ONS 2016) This figure represents 15% of all people in work, earning lower wages and working longer hours than directly employed workers. A typical self-deluded Tory may suggest that this shift towards low-paid self-employment is all to do with personal aspirational entrepreneurship. A more rational statistician might suggest that the trend is explained by a lack of choice in the jobs market.

There's flexible working and there's working for Carillion

Carillion are one of the big players in the PPP game, like G4S and Serco. These are the companies the public sector outsources service provision to, their relationship with their employees leaves a bit to be desired.

At a large hospital in Swindon where Carillion supplies services like cleaning, workers routinely provided supervisors with gifts for time off, that the supervisors demanded. Several workers of Goan origin reported to a tribunal that they were subjected to a culture of intimidation and fear by supervisors at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Carillion turned the tables on the workers by instituting disciplinary proceedings against them for giving gifts for favours, like time off and overtime. The managers and supervisors named as taking the gifts seem to have evaporated into the outsourcing ether and meanwhile the tribunal looking into the abuse dragged on and got forgotten.



The enlargement to the European Union has had a major impact on working patterns in Britain. In particular, the inclusion of a number of eastern European ex-soviet client states has led to a flood of foreign workers entering the country, putting downward pressure on wages. It should be noted that these workers brought with them a strong work ethic, prepared to work long hours on minimum wages, or taking on jobs that the locals didn't want and supplying skills that the abandonment of the apprenticeship system left Britain without.

Illegal immigration from outside the EU has also had its effects on the British workplace. Ironically, being illegal means that these migrants will be working since they will be unable to tap into the benefits system, again depressing wage rates well below the minimum. The government has no idea how many immigrants are working illegally in Britain, on the farms, in the restaurants and factories, and as domestic servants. The deaths of 18 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004 caused an outcry and raised questions about illegal workers and gangmasters and then silence but the exploitation continues.

In response to the deaths in Morecambe Bay New Labour set up the The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in 2005. The GLA managed to survive Cameron's 2010 "bonfire of the quangos" and continued to uncover worker abuse across food processing and farming. More than 90% of its operations, which are driven by the intelligence it receives, identified serious cases of abuse."

Mr Cameron's government did cut funding for the GLA by 25%. Not unnaturally the farming industry see the work of the GLA as "a burden on business" this fitted nicely with the Tory 'cutting red tape' agenda.


Footloose business

Globalization means capitalism without borders, the large corporations move their business to the most flexible labour markets, governments provide incentives, the trades unions comply - the deal on the table is usually take it or leave it. This is a rootless process, the companies come and go, they have no allegiance to any nation. Ford's Transit van factory in Southampton and part of its original factory in Dagenham were due for closure, the Ford Chairman spoke about 'excess production being unsustainable in current market conditions', he said nothing about an earlier decision to move a large slice of production to Turkey.

Recent developments at work, zero hours and beyond...

Amazon are the trend setters in the new work place, specifically in monitoring worker performance. At its distribution centres employees wear GPS devices so that supervisors can monitor their every move. At one huge centre, the size of five football pitches, it takes workers 10 minutes to reach the canteen, where they are patted down by security staff, before they can enjoy a 10 minute lunch break, before they rush off back to their work stations. Should they require an American style 'comfort break' their supervisor will be monitoring their movements.

The Self-employed trick: Amazon are also playing clever on pay, employing delivery drivers on a self-employed basis and thereby side-stepping minimum wage legislastion.

Asda use agency drivers who end up paying fees to the agency, including a fee for receiving their wages, since the agency in turn uses a another agency to handle the pay roll. Drivers also have deductions made for fuel. If they complain, they don't work. Asda says 'nothing to do with us' blame the agencies.

BT employ a number of agency staff in their call centres, working alongside contracted staff but the agency workers are paid less. Employment law says that after 12 weeks in such circumstances the agency staff must be paid the same money. No problem, BT just dump the agency staff before that moment arrives.

Elsewhere large high street retailers avoid paying National Insurance by employing a large number of staff on less than 20 hours a week, the NI threshold.

Bosses in the design and digital industry expect more work for less money, leading to fewer permanent staff members and more unpaid interns, according to think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, which carried out a survey of 500 agency workers., staff turnover has increased in recent years. Short contracts and unpaid work do not lend themselves to staff loyalty.



Zero Hours......

Sports Direct are also in the forefront of new age thinking in the work place, when it comes to contracts. The vast majority of the company's staff are on zero-hours contracts, meaning they do not know when they will be working in any given week, they are also not entitled to holiday and sick pay. Argos are also using the zero hours ploy, frequently distribution centre staff turn up, hang around for an hour or two and get sent home - without payment.

The second half of 2016 saw a slow down in the pace of zero-hours job growth. Bad press for companies like JD Sports and Sports Direct played a part in this. It may have also had something to do with employers believing that Brexit might make it difficult to recruit labour unless they adopted a more formal employment model. If the pool of willing slaves dries up then employers will need to foster some loyalty among their workforce.
Pimlico Plumbers lost a court battle over the status of its workers, the legal ruling on employment status. The company claimed its plumbers were “independent contractors” rather than employees. Workers at Amazon, Uber, Hermes, Wetherspoons, Deliveroo (uses 15,000 riders) and CitySprint have all been engaged in a struggle throughout 2016 to have their status upgraded to that of employees.

So there is clear evidence that the current disenfranchised zero hours workforce is becoming more aware of employment rights and are beginning to demand change. The number of employees without any guaranteed hours in January 2017 was 910,000. This number represents the zero hours workforce, however, a much larger number, somewhere between 5 and 7 million workers are in precarious employment. This employment is made precarious by the behaviour of employers.

Parcelforce, DPD and Amazon among others are penalising couriers if they are off sick and cannot find someone to cover their shift by charging them up to £250 a day. The sum is meant to cover the cost of finding a replacement courier. Elsewhere in the zero hours sweat shops and care industry are earning less than workers in formal employment.The Resolution Foundation suggests that zero-hours workers are paying a 93 pence per hour pay penalty.

The Gig economy is a two edge sword for the government, official unemployment figures are kept artificially low but it costs £4bn in lost tax and benefit payouts, according to TUC. The government has launched an inquiry into changing work practices. It should not take too long for the inquiry to discover that several million people are working in conditions that would not be out of place in the 19th Century, employment without protection or benefits, sick pay, pensions, holiday pay and a living wage.

The Department for Business etc… said:

“We are determined to make sure our employment rules keep up to date to reflect new ways of working, and that’s why the government asked Matthew Taylor to conduct an independent review into modern working practices.”

Very interesting but the Working Time Regulations from nearly 20 years ago tell us much about government and business attitudes to towards working practices.


The European Working Time Directive..

...led to Britain's implementation, the Working Time Regulations, that happened in 1998, and it's still in place. A curious piece of regulation it was since it included an opt-out or waiver for the worker. The libertarians among you may say quite right too. However, and as ever, freedom of choice was not really the cornerstone of this legislation. Consider the example of a cleaner, working in an NHS hospital, for a remote multinational employer. The deal on the table is simple, you agree to work more than the 48 hours stipulated by the legislation by signing the company's waiver or you don't get the job. You see it's all about shift patterns and flexibility, the company just can't fulfil its contract if it doesn't supply a flexible workforce.

This example provides an interesting working relationship between employer and employee, this can only be described as basic. The NHS Trust has effectively disowned any relationship with these workers, all and any complaints must be directed to the remote employer, where all complaints about overwork, sick pay, over time payments, and pension entitlements will be filed under 'moaner'.

In some cases, the NHS Trust will also have its own directly employed cleaners, their working entitlements will be something bordering on civilized, i.e. they get paid overtime, they receive sick pay and they have a pension of sorts. However, it is more common to find that the Trust has transferred its direct labour to the remote contractor, where they will continue to retain their terms and conditions, except that they may find that they are nolonger being required to do any overtime - why would you, when you can get a 'waiver signer' to do the work at minimum wage rates.

Gov.UK supplies us with an example of the waiver:

Example of opt-out agreement:

I [worker’s name] agree that I may work for more than an average of 48 hours a week. If I change my mind, I will give my employer [amount of time - up to 3 months’] notice in writing to end this agreement.

Signed…………………………………… Dated…………………………………….

In 2008 Britain was told by the EU to end the op-out in the Working Time Directive by 2012.. Unsurprisingly, voices for the business perspective, were not in favour of ending the op-out. A study by Kronos found 50% of employers thought the removal of the opt-out would have an adverse impact on their company's profits. Importantly, 45% of employers thought it would be difficult to manage the new regulations under their existing systems. This was backed up by productivity consultants OfficeMetrics,

"As we see a current shift towards flexible working patterns, monitoring the amount of time people are at their desks has become redundant and it has therefore become impossible to enforce a maximum working week. Instead, employers need to understand how employees are spending their working day, whether it is in the office or from remote locations. " (Reported in HR Magazine)

The man from the CBI said:

"We think people can look at their own circumstances and decide if they want to work longer hours. We call this common sense and it doesn't need any amending by Brussels."

And the man from the British Chambers of Commerce said:

"This sends a strong message to the world that the UK is a good place to do business. It is our flexible labour market that has been one of the key strengths of this economy over recent years and it will be crucial in helping businesses drive the UK out of recession."

And the man from the Department of Business, etc.... said: "we're keeping our opt-out."


New Rules for employment tribunals

"Another attack on workers' rights"

The Coalition government introduced new fees for workers filing an employment tribunal case. From July 2013, employees have had to pay up to £1200 to bring a case against an employer.

Smaller claims such as unpaid wages cost £160 to lodge and another £230 if they proceed. Larger claims like unfair dismissal cost an initial £250 and then another £950.

The CBI and Federation of Small Businesses thinks it's a great idea, as does the government, arguing that it's more fair for the taxpayer that dissatisfied employees should start paying. The unions claim that it represents another attack on workers' basic rights at work.

Common features of the modern workplace

The common features of the modern workplace are easy to identify; overwork, low pay, no pay, low productivity stemming from stress and illness - for which the costs are externalised by business and passed onto the NHS.

The distributive workplace is not new but now it's becoming commonplace for workers to work from home or on the road, this reduces company direct costs. It also reduces opportunities for workers to engage with each other to engender any kind of solidarity. A concomitant of this more isolated way of working is the trend towards distributed responsibility, whereby the worker is required to take on decision making without additional financial reward, naturally in a payment by results workplace the inducement to take on decision making is obvious. Outsourcing by councils and public services is also a continuing and growing, as is shifting business to lower cost locations. The increasing use of information technology facilitates and encourages the trend towards the distributive workplace.

However, the knowledge workers currently making most use of new technologies for their work will, further down the road, be in short supply; two reasons, changing demographic trends, i.e. not enough young people and a poor educational system that fails to provide adequate numbers of technologists.

The idea of workers as willing slaves does not lend itself to progress, only to increased profits for companies like Carillion. Outsourcing may cut costs for the provision of public services but you would be foolish or Tory to pretend that the standard of services can be maintained - peanuts and monkeys is what you get. More fundamentally, treating workers like monkeys does not engender company loyalty and thereby business success.


Productivity and engagement

If staff do not feel involved in deciding their hours or career path, it is unlikely they will feel ready to share suggestions on how their workplace could run more efficiently. Productivity suffers as a result.

Many employers tend to think of flixible working in terms of what they want but they are missing a trick when they fail to help workers find ways to balance family commitments with career progression. This could not care less attitude of the employer leads to disenchantment of the worker, leading to a less than positive approach to work.


The first is the relationship between pay and productivity. In a classic chicken and egg situation, economists argue over what comes first: low pay or low productivity.

There is an argument that employers can only afford to raise wages, when productivity goes up. But work by the Living Wage Foundation and others has found raising pay can in turn raise productivity. Better paid workers are more motivated and more likely to stick around and accumulate skills. Seen another way, when employers are forced to pay more, they are more likely to seek ways to make work more productive. Ideally, this will happen with the government’s mandatory national living wage.


Income decline since 2008

Real wages have been on a downward trend since 2008, evidence of this fact can be found from a host of sources, including:


Andy Haldane the Bank of England’s chief economist said:

“The majority of UK households have faced a lost decade of income”. He noted that half of all UK households have seen no material recovery in their real disposable incomes since around 2005."

Institute for Fiscal Studies + Financial Times + Office for Budget Responsibility

Britons face more than a decade of lost wage growth and will earn no more by 2021 than they did in 2008 as the workforce endures the worst period for pay in at least 70 years.

“One cannot stress enough how dreadful that is — more than a decade without real earnings growth,” said Paul Johnson, head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in his analysis of the latest official economic forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility.


"Since 2008 the cumulative inflation has been 26%. During this period, pay in the UK has gone up by 7%, which has left the pay of the average full time worker down by 13.6% in real terms."


A report by the TUC, published on Wednesday (July 2016), shows that real earnings have declined more than 10% since the credit crunch began in 2007, leaving the UK equal bottom in a league table of wages growth. This was based on data from the OECD.

“Wages fell off the cliff after the financial crisis, and have barely begun to recover,” (The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady)


Across Britain's entire workforce, all age groups below the age of 55 experienced 'significant reductions' in average hourly pay between 2008 and 2013, the Commission's research suggests. According to the Commission, the biggest declines in pay have been suffered by younger people.


"Recent ONS publications have noted that households’ real wages have been falling following the 2008-09 economic downturn. Nominal wage growth below the rate of price inflation has resulted in real wages falling for the longest sustained period since at least 1964. This trend is robust to several possible measures of the real wage."

Why did incomes decline?

Every organisation cited above is in no doubt that incomes have declined but knowing this tells us nothing. Why did incomes decline in real terms?

Inflation did outstrip earnings growth over the past 10 years, combine this with the government's austerity pay freezes for the public sector and benefit cuts and you have downward pressure on real earnings. However, in normal circumstances people will tend to work longer hours to maintain their income to offset the effect of inflation etc.

However, what began to happen in 2008 was a decline in hours worked, driven by employers seeking to reduce the wage bill. Part-time working increased and there was a corresponding decrease in full-time working. (ONS) Rule of thumb, two part-time workers cost less in non-wage costs than one full-time worker and self-employed workers cost nothing - ask Pimlico Plumbers.

The composition of the workforce also changed, with a shift from manufacturing to services with a loss of income due the lower pay prevailing in services. The trend towards zero hours and so-called gig working will also have contributed to income decline. Further, on average the rise of self-employment was characterised by lower earnings, i.e. £250 a week v. £400 for someone directly employed. "Self-employment accounts for 45 per cent of the growth in employment since 2008 and now stands at five million people." (Resolution Foundation)