Sunday, 21 December 2008

Put work in its place: the bosses wont

Good news that the European Parliament has voted to end the right of members to opt-out of the Working Time Directive. The Directive prevents employers from forcing employees to work longer than 48 hours per week. It is a pity that the Commission itself reversed its opposition to keeping the opt-out only the week before Wednesday’s vote thereby undermining the impact of the MEPs’ stand. Or perhaps it was the Commission’s change of mind that gave rise to such a large majority of MEPs (421-273) voting against the opt-out safe in the knowledge that without the Commission’s blessing there is no chance of the opt-out actually coming to an end?

Closer to home, how strange that at a time when 100s of thousands of skilled and experienced workers are faced with being thrown out of their jobs leaders of the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry should greet the vote as `misguided’ and with the demand that they be allowed to impose as long a working week as they see fit? It is their human right you see and their operational needs, not the worker’s, are paramount. They want fewer workers doing more and more and they want to use this recession to `lock in’ these `productivity’ gains by making longer hours and lower wages the norm in post-recession Britain should that ever emerge.

Of course, some workers will echo the employers’ sentiments on the grounds that they should be allowed to work as long as they want to further their careers or earn extra money or simply enough to cover food bills and mortgage payments. The truth is, however, that those who work long hours, when its not imposed by employer fiat, are selfish and cost the rest of us money and happiness. We, along with their put-upon partners, pick up the tab for looking after their socially neglected children even more so if the partner too is working excessive hours. We pay higher prices in the shops and for houses because of their `extra’ earnings. Their ruthless careerism creates an unfair competition at work which some, particularly those with young children that they care about, cannot hope to compete with. At a time like this, hours (but not pay) should be cut dramatically so that the newly unemployed can be absorbed into the workforce before their skills and experience are lost forever. This should be incentivised in the tax system until it becomes the norm by reducing PAYE tax on the first 20 hours worked. Employers would then have a reason not to work us to death, our children and the elderly would be looked after by . . . ourselves (instead of policemen, social workers, borstals, nannies and care homes) and we’d all have a lot more time to participate in our communities and in democratic life. Alternatively, we could just kick back and enjoy a rest from our productive, manageable, fulfilling and, above all, short working week.