Having It Their Way

April 26, 2013 1:42 pm

By the skin of my teeth, I’ve just avoided redundancy for the third time in two years. Welcome to the wonderful world of work!

Time was, back before we had our first female prime minister – no names mentioned –  you really could finish one job on a Friday and start a new one on Monday morning. Not that her having been a woman had anything to do with it, you understand. It was more about how she and those around her, went about things. Well, back even before the farce that was the Labour government of the ’70s. Back to a time of nearly full employment is what I’m getting at.

Okay, maybe not like that all the time. You could take a week off for a breather if you liked, there was no rush. You could take your time and find something you really wanted to do. Something where you didn’t think you would be wasting your – or anybody else’s – time. In a lot of cases, if you so desired, a job really could be for life, with a secure pension at the end, capped with a retirement ‘do’ from your longstanding ‘work family’.


Something for nothing

But these days, and with ever more intensity, jobs are something harder to come by. When I say ‘jobs’, I mean jobs that have decent hours, conditions and wages. Not those peevish zero hour, stand by the phone, work for your benefit, measly minimum-waged, performance-related, jobshare, work trial, ‘there’s plenty on the dole if you don’t like it’ jobs. You know, those that chew you up and spit you out. Those jobs that have bastard managers called Gavin, because it says so on their name tags, or manageresses called Fiona. Those jobs that are referred to as ‘McJobs’, pioneered by a certain fast food chain.

But don’t smirk, dear graduates, some of those are waiting for you. I know of people with degrees stacking shelves at Aldi, or on the  shopfloor of Next. And what are ‘internships’ except another way of bosses getting something for nothing?

No. The pendulum has definitely swung in the wrong direction if you’re trying to hack your way through the jungle that is work. It started in the 1980s, of course. ‘The manager has a right to manage’, it was declared. For too long, apparently, the trade unions had been ruling the roost. ‘Workers had been having their own way for too long’, bosses bleated. (It’s our fault the country was on its knees. Nothing to do with greedy bankers at all). ‘They were too good at standing up for their rights, those bloody working class oiks, so let’s take their ‘rights’ away from them. That’ll teach ’em.’

For a long time now, managers have had weapons like ‘supervision’. That ‘friend’ that taps you on the shoulder. It’s an import from corporate America. A cosy chat with your manager, one to one, where you can both bring up issues in the workplace and it’s all noted down with aims, objectives and goals identified. It’s a user-friendly way of smoothing away rough edges in the workplace, oh, and isolating an employee and intimidating them.

Its evil twin, the ‘appraisal’, soon joined the fray. Its even bigger brother – ‘performance-related pay’ – came along to kick your head in. All designed to undermine the workplace union branch that used to deal with this kind of stuff COLLECTIVELY. Atomise the worker, get them on their own, and they’re like putty in their claw-likes. And those union leaders who clambered aboard the New Labour squeaky-clean, ‘we’re all middle class now’ bus? Why, they left us standing in the middle of the road.

That’s where we are now, getting hit by traffic coming in all directions, not a zebra crossing, not a lollipop lady in sight, to guide us out of the jam we’re in.

For all their faults, (and, Christ, take your pick – Iraq, Afghanistan, cash for honours, introducing the market into the NHS, Tony Blair’s smirky little mug, introducing tuition fees, generally sticking to Tory policies etc.) New Labour did invest in, at least, some jobs. I worked in my longest-lasting employment under them – seven years!


Holding down wages

I was a drug therapist in a rehab. It had its faults. I was on the ‘new contract’. This meant I was working alongside colleagues on the ‘old contract’ doing the same job. Yet they were earning £6,000 per year more than me. Ring any bells? They introduced ‘performance-related pay’. You had to compile a portfolio that ‘evidenced’ every aspect of your role. You submitted it to head office if you were applying for a pay rise – a pay rise which, under the old system, you used to get as you moved up the scale by the number of years you were there and the skills and experience you acquired. Competency tests were already in place if you weren’t up to the mark and you were given capability programmes to train you up if you weren’t.

But, guess what. For three years, nobody got a pay rise. So, according to their new system, everybody must have been rubbish. Of course, we knew this appraisal con was just that, a con. It was a device for managers to use to hold down wages. On the third year, three of us, myself included, were told: ‘Congratulations. Your portfolios are fine. Here’s your pay rise.’ Only to be informed a week later, there had been an ‘administrative error’. We hadn’t been given a rise after all. Oops.

That was it for me. I applied for another job in a hostel for ex-offenders and left. Lo and behold, after a year (and, by now, the banking crisis had hit us) the company I worked for were having a ‘re-structure’. One of those exercises where everybody has to re-apply for their own jobs. Except they are not ‘their own jobs’ anymore because they’ve been ‘re-labelled’ and given new names. A three month consultation period ensued where we had meeting after meeting to discuss, mediate and negotiate. In the end, the job interviews took place and eight out of eleven of us, two of whom had been working there for seventeen and twenty-one years, were ‘not successful’.

Down the road again

In my own interview,  before a panel of five managers, which lasted for almost two hours, I was told I wasn’t successful because I hadn’t gone into ‘enough detail’. Within an hour, I was down the road and signing on with an agency for whatever work I could find. This led to five months’ work back at the old rehab. Much to my horror, they had embarked on the same exercise and, as soon as they culled staff and replaced them with new people, I was (again) surplus to requirements. Luckily, my agency put me onto another hostel. Even luckier, they had a full time vacancy and took me on.

It was less pay and a lonely night job looking after troublesome ex-offenders, alcoholics, drug addicts, paedophiles etc. But it sure beat brushing up at Poundland for my dole. I say that, but by the middle of each month, I was into my overdraft and, believe you me, dear reader, I don’t exactly burn the candle – even at one end.

Then came the announcement – yes, another ‘re-structure’ to make us ‘competitive to our funders’. In other words, the quango that dishes out government money for outfits like ours, is making cuts and so we have to offer up cuts of our own. The interviews commenced. This time five people were shown the door with nearly forty years experience between them. I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. However, the same amount of work has to be done, but by fewer people and, in my case, for even less money.

You will find this process taking place for the last couple of years up and down the country. Workers in the private and public sectors being shed. Then people on benefits being demonised for…well…being on benefits. Meanwhile, those at the top of the wealth pile receive tax cuts to the value of (at least) £40,000 per year to add to their already fat wallets.



‘There’s no money,’ they say.How to Fight Back in the tough times by Art Williams

‘This country is broke,’ they chime.

‘We’re all in it together,’ they chant.

But let’s spend £10 million on a funeral for someone who ‘saved us from ourselves’ and put this country back on its feet, gawd bless ‘er.

For too long, they’ve had it their way. Isn’t it about time the pendulum swung back in our direction?

It just needs a push, people.



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