Helen Martin: Employer’s greed keeps your wages low

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BACK in the Seventies, before Mrs Thatcher made the changes that were to alter employee rights and industrial relations in the UK, the world of work was a very different place.

CBI director general John Cridland and the Confederation of British Industry’s President Paul Drechsler would never have got away with the statements they made in the last week about the “national living wage” (which is actually not a living wage, but merely an overdue rise on the basic minimum wage).

The two, obviously singing from similar, if not identical, hymn sheets, issued warnings such as the dramatic impact on profits and jobs, saying it was “a gamble” as firms might not make enough to cover increased costs and citing large companies who would see “all of their profits wiped out” and others who would have to axe a fifth of their workforce.

Considering we are talking about a 70p an hour rise for the lowest paid over-25s currently on a scandalous £6.50 an hour, their comments don’t just defy belief, they present a very grim, dark and Dickensian view of an employer’s priorities.

Any firm which cannot afford to pay such paltry wages simply shouldn’t be in business. If they are sailing that close to the wind, there are any number of unexpected pressures quite apart from paying still less than decent wages, that could blow them out of the water. . . a minor change in employer’s national insurance or pension contributions, a hike in business tax, losing contracts, being undercut or overtaken by competitors.

But the astonishing attempt at justifying human exploitation on the grounds of a drop in profits is obscene, especially coming from those such as Messrs Cridland and Drechsler who could easily spend at least a day’s worth of labour from a basic pay worker on a modest business lunch.

The fundamental shift since the Seventies is that now, wage offers are calculated on what’s left once all the outgoings and overheads, including executive pay, required reinvestment and share-holders dividends, have been taken off.

Wages used to count as one of the crucial, priority overheads that had to be raised, negotiated and met annually along with materials and costs. What was left was profit, at a much lower percentage of turn-over than is expected today.

The UK has returned to the days of the mill-owner deciding what he can afford to give his slum-dwelling workers – only after the needs of himself, his family and his palatial country estate have been seen to. Why bother factoring in the need to cover wages in a business plan when you can simply stick to the legal minimum?

It says a lot about society that we don’t just listen to the Cridland-Drechsler outpourings but often accept their upside-down arguments as making economic sense – which they do in an unprincipled, greed-ridden world of extreme capitalism where justice, fairness, social welfare, democracy, genuine economic policy and shared national prosperity are mere fantasies of the left.

If the living wage is to have any real impact, there should also be some award, appreciation or tax break for firms who pay well above what they have to while naming and shaming those who don’t.

Ken must be rental

LABOUR MSP Ken Macintosh thinks private sector tenants are at greater risk of exploitation than council tenants. He obviously hasn’t seen some of the “ready for rental” council flats I have!

Cop a load of these failings

THERE can be few left in Scotland, apart from a few high-ranking police officers, who think Police Scotland was a good idea. It’s been an unmitigated failure.

Even if it has saved a bob or two with “efficiencies and synergies” the results have been atrocious as far as the public is concerned . . excess stop and search of youngsters, riding roughshod over the Capital’s policies on saunas and the sex trade, call centre failures and death on the M9, closure of stations, and routine police patrols carrying fire-arms without any public consultation.

Theresa May is now using the evidence of these failures to resist moves towards merging forces in England. Scotland has led the way in many things, from personal care for the elderly to free prescriptions and tuition fees. We can’t be expected to get everything right.

I need colour co-ordination

I STUDIED it for days until I thought I’d mastered the council’s instructions for refuse change-over to fortnightly collection, green bin recycling, grey bin landfill, brown bin compost, grey-black bin food scraps, glass blue box, and different symbols for different days. My sticky-backed labels were stuck on and I was ready to roll.

I read it again carefully on the day my last green rubbish bin had been emptied and was left with a new recycling sticker attached. At that point I was to fill it my with cardboard, paper, clean plastic etc, etc. I swear that’s what it said.

I’d just finished filling it almost to the brim when I heard another bin lorry and saw it taking away everyone else’s cardboard and plastic from their old red boxes. That was Day 1. I’m now left with a mosaic card of blue days, yellow days, green days and red days to denote what gets picked up when. This could be a very long learning curve.