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It’d make you sick… February 12, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Social Policy, Workers Rights.
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From Slate, a map of states internationally that don’t require paid sick leave (this is on foot of extended sickness, not a few days – though the article doesn’t clarify that).

Amazing in its own way.

Reading the comments below the piece is kind of grim when one reads about people with one weeks vacation per annum, no holiday days and no sick days.

Or how about ‘paid maternity leave’… As one commentor noted for ‘none at all’, Swaziland, Papau New Guinea, Liberia and the USof A.

Put aside, for a second, the human misery involved. The obvious economic issue to me would be the problem of people arriving to work too ill to complete their tasks and infecting those around them.

Depressing and an indication of just how little a society will do in regard of basic workers rights when there’s no pressure to do anything. We discuss the end of the left a fair old bit for obvious reasons, but without sustained pressure rights can be overlooked, dismissed or removed. Or never exist in the first place.

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1. ivorthorne - February 12, 2013

I was just reading an article on cracked.com on the subject of myths about the Middle Ages. One of things they suggested was that peasants had almost 1/3 of the year off due to holy days, festivals and the like. They also worked shorter days than the average person living today.

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2. CL - February 12, 2013

The international capitalist class is waging a successful campaign against workers rights. School bus drivers in NYC who have been on strike for weeks are about to lose. They will return to work defeated. :Another victory for billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg who has shown himself to be a formidable class warrior. A few months ago he addressed the Conservative Party Conference explaining why there should be no tax on financial transactions.

‘Over the course of New York City’s school bus strike, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated an utter callousness to the school bus workers and the vital services they provide’

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/12/prof-f12.html

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3. doctorfive - February 12, 2013
ivorthorne - February 12, 2013

I quite like the idea of the monitoring system, but it’s all stick and no carrot. If people were getting bonuses for getting work done then I wouldn’t have a problem.

The idea that people would get lower scores for taking toilet breaks seems utterly idiotic. It’s really frustrating to see technology with such potential wasted by managers with a Daily Mail attitude.

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CMK - February 12, 2013

Technology like this will never be used to enhance workers’ lives. It also militates, aggressively, against work as a social function. These kinds of devices preclude significant social interaction between workmates; interaction that can make the difference between getting through the day in a depressive state and getting through the day in one piece, psychologically. This kind of job is individualised as it is, without these kinds of technological monitors, by reduce the scope for even bare interaction, like a five minute chat about the football, it will contribute enormously to anomie and, I’d wager, depression and other psychological effects.

It also precludes any solidarity whatsoever. Anyone who has ever worked anywhere has worked with someone who might be in difficult circumstances for any number of reasons. Colleagues might give this person a ‘dig out’ by helping them with their work or doing this that or the other, smallish, things for them. Under this system that wouldn’t be possible. Solidarity would send your scores south and would lead to questions from management.

Workers are not machines and strapping a device like this to them seems predicated on the assumption that they are machines. The only way this can sustained is through high staff turnover.

There doesn’t seem to be an financial aspect to it. No financial reward associated with good performance. Since our polity is structured on the presumption that you have to financially ‘incentivise’ people (hence the proliferation of tax breaks for ‘investors’) it’s surprising that there seems no financial reward for hitting targets. But there only dumb workers and the only incentive the need is the (electronic) lash. These kinds of ‘innovations’ seem to me to be one why in which capitalism can increase productivity without increasing wages and, yet again, the whole ‘higher productivity will lead to higher wages’ arguments are revealed to be the bullshit that they so clearly are.

Which draws up the whole power aspect of it. Those on the lowest grades, with the least amount of social capital are subjected to surveillance where surveillance is probably not warranted and where, to add to the previous point, a well tailored form of financial incentives could achieve as much. I’d be stunned if this system wasn’t costing as much as it’s supposed to be saving, in terms of wrong orders picked, goods being damaged etc. But it seems to minister the need to ensure that workers at the bottom are subjected to what is harsh discipline.

Finally: SIPTU. What can you say? Whoever agreed to this on behalf of the union should be sacked immediately. This kind of thing should not be entertained at all by any decent union. But SIPTU, being SIPTU, seem content to allow this practice to embed and it will spread out further and be harder to stop and before you know it teachers, nurses, civil servants etc will be wearing similar devices.

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WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2013

And work does have the social function you point to. It’s vital.

And re Tesco. Workers are not machines as you say. I can well believe that workers are given lower ‘ratings’ for toilet breaks etc.

Does it mention the union? If SIPTU were involved it’s an absolute disgrace.

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CMK - February 12, 2013

‘He said the “paperless order picking system” had been in place for five years and was a feature of any modern warehouse facility. The spokesman said Tesco had an agreement with SIPTU in relation to work practices.’

Last sentence of the report. Take a bow, Jack.

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CMK - February 14, 2013

I appears that SIPTU’s position on these devices was seriously misrepresented by the ‘Independent’, surprise, surprise. The organiser responsible has published a rebuttal in the latest ‘Liberty’ which I think was also published in the Independent itself.
Dear Editor,
It appear’s SIPTU’s position was seriously misrepresented by the Independent (surprise, surprise). Here’s a rebuttal from them on the use of these devices at the Donabate distribution centre. Published in the latest ‘Liberty’

**

I refer to the article in the Irish Independent yesterday (11th February) with regards to workers in the Tesco Distribution Centre at Donabate, Co. Dublin being required to wear arm band monitors. The article suggested that SIPTU had agreed with the company with regard to the use of this equipment to monitor staff.

This article was extremely misleading and factually incorrect.

While SIPTU has a collective agreement with Tesco which covers our members working in this plant. There is no agreement with this system for the purpose of monitoring performance.

Furthermore, SIPTU is in dispute with Tesco regarding its attempt to unilaterally implement an increase in the Performance Level to 100 PI in the plant which currently stands at 84 PI. The PI measures the rate at which an employee picks an item from the warehouse.

The system referred to is specifically a means to send messages to staff working around the plant due to its extensive size.

Any attempt to use this device for the purpose intimated in the article would not be tolerated and would result in a refusal to wear such an apparatus.

SIPTU has been instrumental in pointing out flaws in the system that is currently in operation and we have highlighted our members’ concerns with the company management.

Regards,

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doctorfive - February 12, 2013

+1

Further issues with displacement as supervisors or whatever can be replaced to some degree by electronic surveillance. Was reading somewhere recently about train stations in the UK were their would have been four or five staff manning shop a few years ago now only has a security guard.

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CMK - February 12, 2013

Same dynamic here. When I worked briefly on the railway there were an array of manual and menial tasks usually done by young fellas who would then work their way up. All now replaced by contractors with no job progression or any possibility of earning more. I doubt if they have the benefit of allowances and overtime which were one of the few perks of being employed by Irish Rail.

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CL - February 12, 2013

The degradation of work and of workers is part of the M.O. of capitalism and is the theme of a fine book by Harry Braverman

http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb9401/

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ivorthorne - February 12, 2013

Don’t get me started on SIPTU. . .

I would have to disagree. Having a record of your work can be of great benefit in a scenario where you are called in to a disciplinary procedure. It’s one of the reasons that workers need to get involved in deciding what is measured.

I’ve also worked in call centres where a great deal of data was collected (call time, time off calls, number of call progressed, sales etc.). There were as many upsides as downsides. When you know what is expected of you, and how you are progressing toward meeting that goal, it helps you to manage yourself. I didn’t find that it got in the way of social interaction.

As for people needing a bit of help, that’s already an issue. Any system that depends on people helping each other out is a problem. Discrimination in the workplace is always a problem and somebody from a minority background is always going to have greater problems getting a dig-out. A system needs to be flexible enough to allow all workers – regardless of popularity – to survive worklife when they are going through a difficult time in their personal lives.

I would love to see this kind of technology used with the likes of hospital consultants. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to see how much time they spend with public or private clients? Wouldn’t it be great to see how much time TDs spend dealing with lobbyists?

Data is neutral. As a worker, so long as you have an input into what gets measured, data can be your greatest protection against unfair dismisal. Subjective reviews by management leave workers vulnerable. Anything that adds a level of objectivity is great as far as I’m concerned.

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CMK - February 12, 2013

They’re all fair points. But, given the structuring of power relations in a capitalist economy like outs, these kinds of devices will never, ever, be utilised for those occupying a strong class position. So, we’ll never see them on hospital consultants or TDs or business people. I don’t agree that data is neutral. Why is data collected? The mere collection of data pre-supposes a range of power relations. I might want to see data collected on what hospital consultants do with their time while on their public contracts. That won’t happen. A middle-management busy body in Tesco wants to see what workers in a distribution warehouse get up to; that happens. Why, what for and who for are all key questions in data collection. Having said that while workers can always stand to benefit from ‘objective’ data that objectivity is only a factor when said data is before a third party with powers to compel the employer or employee. Where management in workplaces are fixed on a course of action, objective data to show that workers are performing well, above expectations, beyond the call of duty etc., will be kicked aside if it conflicts with management imperatives. I think we’ve seen plenty of examples where workers have demonstrated that they companies, departments etc were viable, using objective data and yet management still closed them down or restructured them. Power, in the private sector at least, always resides with management who retain the power to terminate the business and lay everyone off. Still, it’s an interesting debate and a worthwhile discussion.

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ivorthorne - February 13, 2013

Data is rarely neutral, but data collection is. These kinds of technologists aid data collection, and it is in that way that I would see them as a means workers can use to protect themselves. Workers need to embrace the technology and force management to take data on the relevant dimensions of their labour.

You’re right that the power relations in a capitalist economy put unskilled labour at a disadvantage. But that is the case regardless of data collection. Remember, management at the Tesco warehouse were already, formally or not, assessing the performance of these workers. They are already ignoring good performance on the part of workers when it suits their purposes. That management now have to make sure their evaluations match data is something I would welcome – provided that the data is relevant.

There are other possibilities offered by this kind of technology. It could be used to record instances where workers are exposed to a harmful work environment. It can be used to record complaints made to management about matters of concern. Examinations of records would allow employees to support allegations of bullying where they are being treated differently to their peers.

I guess I’m in a half glass full kind of mood. I certainly accept that this kind of technology can, and will, be misused by managers with a Daily Mail mentality but throughout my worklife I’ve found having this kind of data available useful. Workers just need to learn to use it.

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4. Jonathan - February 12, 2013

Some interesting articles on Mike Bloomberg here, especially about the way in which he seems to encapsulate the hypocrisy of austerity all by himself: Mike the businessman wants to keep taxes as low as possible, thus causing NYC to have a revenue problem; Mike the Mayor complains that there is no money, and cuts services; Mike the philanthropist is shocked by the lack of services, and donates money to help out. See here: http://socialistworker.org/2013/02/04/dont-be-like-mikes and here: http://socialistworker.org/2011/06/09/weve-been-bloomberged

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WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2013

It’s sickening.

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