The surreal world of Blairite workers’ ‘rights’… May 30, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
There’s has been an epochal shift in the balance between workers and capital. For we have reached “the end of the era”. This may come as a surprise to many, but the long struggle that was waged across centuries has come to an end. There is no need for any further changes, all is moving towards the sunny uplands of a utopia where worker and business can hand in hand skip merrily through…
No. No, wait, sorry, that’s all nonsense.
Because, twice this week it is necessary to comment on the vacuity of the Blairite project.
For in yesterday’s Guardian we learn that:
[the business secretary, John] Hutton provoked the ire of trade unions earlier today as challenged the “automatic assumption” that further legislation was the only way to deal with exploitation in the workplace.
Hutton told the Fabian Society in London: “In future, beyond minimum standards, we must place increasing emphasis on government creating the opportunity for workers and businesses to work out what is best for their own circumstances.”
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? That the workplace is in some sense an arena in which equals engage rather than top down hierarchies. That it is possible to easily ‘work out what is best for their own circumstances’.
Incidentally, considering the incredible Phil Collins statements about the Fabians, one can only wonder at the irony of the venue.
“Unity is an absolute precondition for progress and the prospect to serve our country for a fourth term in office,” Hutton said.
“But so too is a clear understanding of the fundamental cause we seek to promote and the best way now to translate Labour’s enduring values into the right policies for the future that can help our country prosper and thrive.”
And in an echo of an argument heard from the centre right for decades…
“Having a multiplicity of employment rights does not amount to a great deal if you can’t get a job in the first place,” said Hutton.
This is expanded upon as follows:
Hutton said the Labour government had reached “the end of the era” on considering major new regulations as the best way to improve standards.
Employment rights should both support market competition and ensure people have the right to work, echoing Labour’s twin themes of supporting wealth creation and promoting fairness, he added.
And he then continues…
“This has already has its basis in Labour’s groundbreaking ‘right to request’ legislation, which gives employees the right to ask, but also crucially ensuring businesses retain the right to say no if it’s not the best thing for business.”
Now, the ‘right to request’ is near risible (despite the fact that the TUC welcomed it originally claiming that in 90% of cases dealing with flexible working hours requests they were granted – a figure I’d like to see validated). I can request anything including the sun, moon and stars in my employments as it stands. But I won’t get them. And it is only through the codification and enforcement of rights… by… yes, that’s correct, the state – since that’s the only actor in all this with the power to enforce – that ‘rights’ mean anything at all. Indeed the process that is described on this useful site here (the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform “BERR’s central purpose is to help ensure business success in an increasingly competitive world. It is the voice for business across Government”… hmmmm) about the procedures are revealing:
Once the employer and the employee have discussed the request, the employer must notify the employee of the decision in writing.
If a request is rejected, the notification must:
State the business ground(s) for refusing the application
What is a business ground?
An application can be refused only where there is a clear business reason. The business ground(s) for refusing an application must be from one of those listed below.
Business grounds for refusing a request
Burden of additional costs.
Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
Inability to recruit additional staff.
Detrimental impact on quality.
Detrimental impact on performance.
Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
Planned structural changes.
Wouldn’t almost any such request fall afoul of ‘Burden of additional costs’?
And note how helpfully the BERR site assists those thrusting titans of the entrepreneurial sector…
How should the refusal be explained?
In addition to providing a specific business ground the employer must include an explanation about why the business ground applies in the circumstances. Experience shows that an employee who understands why a business reason is relevant will accept the outcome and be satisfied that their application has been considered seriously, even if they are disappointed that their application has been refused. It also shows that the reverse is true, particularly if the explanation is not sufficient for understanding.
The explanation should include the key facts about why the business ground applies. These should be accurate and clearly relevant to the business ground. To prevent any uncertainty, the explanation should avoid the use of unfamiliar jargon and should be written in plain English.
An explanation of around two paragraphs will usually be sufficient, although the actual length of explanation necessary to demonstrate why the business ground applies will differ depending on each individual case.
An example might be a manager in a small firm manufacturing curtains who receives a request from an employee to not work on Thursdays. The manager rejects the request, as the weekly fabric delivery is received on Thursday, and preparations begin for the following day’s despatch of customer orders. The explanation might say:
‘I am sorry that I cannot grant your request to change the days that you work, but to allow you to not work on a Thursday would have a detrimental effect on the performance of the business.’
Thursday is our busiest day of the week, when all staff are required to ensure that the machinists can continue making curtains while stock is received, and finished curtains are packaged ready to be despatched the following morning. You are aware that on a Thursday morning we receive our weekly delivery of fabric. This requires the involvement of all staff to help move the material from the delivery bay into the storeroom, before the newly made curtains can be prepared for despatch the following morning.’
As I indicated when we met to discuss the application, if you decide to change the day you would prefer not to work to one earlier in the week, then I would be happy to reconsider your application’.
Any facts quoted in the explanation must be accurate. It is not a necessity for the employer to provide the detail in the explanation, but they should ensure that they are able to back up any facts should they subsequently be disputed. A decision based on incorrect facts to reject an application would provide an employee with a basis to make a complaint to an employment tribunal.
It’s almost surreal. One can easily imagine the conversations in businesses that ensue. Not that the reality would be anything other than an employee knowing full well what sort of response might be forthcoming. One tends to pick up on that sort of thing… It really has to be one of the most dismal and cosmetic forays into the labour relations area ever. And this from a ‘Labour’ government?
Indeed for more on this there is an interesting essay here on the gender implications of the ‘right to request’ which notes that:
Given that so much more is needed, it may seem overly optimistic to see the rather weak right to request flexible working as a first step in a movement towards gender equality based on the universal care-giver/worker model.
‘Rather weak right’, well, that’s a kind way of putting it.
And what is most annoying is the way in which it typifies more Labour doublespeak on such matters because as ever they are attempting to talk one way and, very slightly, tilt another.
Or as the Guardian also notes:
His comments come just weeks after the government agreed to change the law to ensure agency workers’ rights kick in after three months, instead of a year – following intensive lobbying from trade unions.
Hutton promised new measures to protect vulnerable workers, pledging to remove legal barriers that hamper action against rogue employers. “This Labour government will always focus on those most in need,” he said.
So, some limited improvements in some areas. Some clear stasis in others, and yet again Labour is unwilling to actually sell a left project for fear of upsetting the middle classes.
End of an era he says? Too right.