‘Flexible’ labour markets July 28, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Great takedown in the Observer earlier in the Summer of the above, where Philip Inman notes that this is ‘the new injustice inflicted on the working class’. What’s interesting is that Inman notes that:
Globalisation is to some extent at fault, though not necessarily in the way we previously thought. A recent study of US wages data found that despite China, Russia and the previously communist east European countries entering the global economy in the late 20th century, wages generally increased until the turn of the century and the first term of George W Bush’s presidency. It was not until 2003 that most household incomes went into decline.
So rather than the previous narrative of stagnant wages for three decades, it seems that the incomes of all but the lowest-skilled blue-collar workers followed a rising arc in the 1980s and 1990s before a sudden reversal soon after the year 2000.
This more recent decline in incomes was matched by rising costs, in particular one cost that is deliberately not captured in official inflation figures: property. For most people, that is not an insignificant expense, and, as we know, house prices began to rise steeply from the late 1990s, pushing up monthly mortgage payments.
It’s not even that governments were unaware of the problem. He notes that tax credits in 2003 was driven by a wish to put a floor under falling incomes and rising costs. But, those costs keep going up. This has had knock on effects in terms of employment patterns – or rather ‘flexibility’ has become a watchword for those who find it expedient. And, surprise, surprise, while a small number find flexibility useful, for most it is a short-cut to perpetual impoverishment. The financial crash, of course, was another part of this dynamic.
And how does this work in practice? Inman points to an area one might not think was exposed to these practices:
For years, the health service has maintained a low basic wage for Monday-to-Friday daytime working and higher rates for other times of the day and week to persuade staff to work unsociable hours. That’s not enough any more, apparently: despite being highly coercive, it still gives the employee too much power.
It is already common to find radiographers and phlebotomists on zero-hours contracts and tied to a bank of staff who must cater for a range of hospitals, minor injury units and GP practices. They sign up to monthly rotas and can’t plan for a holiday or persuade a high street lender their work is secure enough to gain a mortgage.
It’s that dynamic in which workers are trapped, unable to break out, unable to put down roots. And that’s telling in itself, for Inman addresses that point about a small number liking the approach:
The defenders of flexible working argue that people like it. They are supported by surveys that show most appreciate being offered it. But as employment expert John Philpott points out, those who say they like zero-hours contracts are generally students and older workers, who have another income to fall back on.
Indeed he goes further and points out that ‘flexibility’ means two different things depending on where one is in the employment process:
…full-time workers say the flexibility they like does not come from draconian rota systems, but from time off to look after a sick child, and the opportunity to take leave or make up the hours another time. Working weekends and nights is rarely a pleasure.