Workers’ rights – on the ground – are not doing too well here in Gibraltar. Life may be different in other parts of the world.
The bizarre cross-border situation that makes up Gibraltar means we have a steady stream of workers crossing the frontier daily who are willing to work for below minimum wage, illegally and in unsafe working conditions.
Want examples? Sure.
- The firms that promise people a contract on £x an hour and when they start, the contract reflects a couple of quid less.
- Someone offered a three year contract – to move to Gib – (no exes) and is given one for less than a year when they arrive.
- The worker given redundancy due to ‘lack of work’ and then told they can go back on temporary three-month contracts (no security, no rights).
- The workers working 40 or more hours a week on part-time contracts that minimise employer’s contributions and workers’ rights to redundancy claims.
- The workers who are getting £5 an hour on the black, when the minimum wage is £6.50 an hour. The craft, ie skilled rate, is £7.69, which works out at £61 a day before tax and social. Meanwhile some people get £60 a day cash in hand, others might get £80. More than 30 years ago Partner was getting £50 a day self-employed.
Recently we tried to advertise his business on a facebook forum promoting employment, workers, job opportunities and seeking work. Apparently we couldn’t do this. It was for people who really needed money in their pocket, promoting the black economy at the expense of legitimate businesses, because, people on the black deserve the work more.
People on the black also don’t pay tax and social, don’t pay £20 annually to be registered with the Employment Board, and don’t pay £25 a year to Trade and Industry. In fact, this year, that has gone up to £100 a year to the new Office of Unfair Trading. Although the staff have moved into swanky new offices so, obviously, someone has to pay for that.
I can see why a forum won’t want to be flooded with endless adverts from businesses. At the same time, it still gripes that someone with less experience, less qualifications (if any) can advertise to do the same work, and we can’t because we have a legitimate business with all the costs that incurs. And yet, we would charge the same rates, despite our on-costs.
What about pricing? And lower wages. One argument is that desperate poor people get some money, and the customer gets a good (questionable) cheap job.
The counter argument is that this approach drives down the basic rate for everyone, ignores health and safety, and leaves people struggling to make ends meet. The real winners are the employers.
For those of you who haven’t read Robert Tressell, here is the wiki summary of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists. And for non-linkclickers, a couple of extracts:
Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the inequity and iniquity of society, Tressell’s cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors provide a backdrop for his main target — the workers who think that a better life is “not for the likes of them”. Hence the title of the book; Tressell paints the workers as “philanthropists” who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who believes that the capitalist system is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him. In vain he tries to convince his fellow workers of his world view, but finds that their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their “betters”.
As Orwell said, it should be compulsory reading:
Writing in the Manchester Evening News in April 1946 George Orwell praised the book’s ability to convey without sensationalism “the actual detail of manual work and the tiny things almost unimaginable to any comfortably situated person which make life a misery when one’s income drops below a certain level.” He considered it “a book that everyone should read” and a piece of social history that left one “with the feeling that a considerable novelist was lost in this young working-man whom society could not bother to keep alive.”
In Ragged, Tressell writes about people working long hard days and living in appalling accommodation. Tressell died of tuberculosis.
Less money circulating, and more money concentrated in the hands of a few does not make for a good and productive society.
What about unsafe working environments? Construction has always been risky, if for nothing else it involves falls from heights. And sometimes, dodgy scaffolding, unsafe ladders, carrying heavy weights.
Let’s look at European and Australian regs regarding bags of cement. In Europe they were reduced from 50kgs to 25kgs. In Australia they are now 20kgs.
The BWI has been campaigning since 2013 for the weight to be reduced to 25kgs throughout the world, citing lifting loads of more than 25 kgs as the biggest cause for musculo-skeletal injuries to the lower back, neck, shoulders, elbows, hernias and general physical wear and tear.
Let me remind you again of Ragged:
Tressell paints the workers as “philanthropists” who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
On one site in Gib, Partner was told to carry two 15 litre tins of paint. He refused. Two 15 litre tins of paint well exceed 25 kgs. One isn’t far off 25 kgs.
Many workers are too frightened to refuse to do something damaging to their health, and, maybe don’t even realise the long-term effects.
And to finish on lifting, with manual handling advice from the UK Health and Safety Executive. To meet the provisions of Regulation 4 you:
only need to label a load if there is a risk of injury and it is reasonably practicable to do so.
do not have to provide this information if the effort involved in doing so would be much greater than any health and safety benefits that might result.
should reduce risky manual handling operations by providing lifting aids, splitting loads and telling people not to carry several items at once.
could ask manufacturers and suppliers to mark weights (and, if relevant, information about the heaviest side) on loads if this can be done easily.
Get the bold, mine. Because this is how HSE works (a former employer of mine). The guidance used is ‘reasonably practicable’ which basically translates to, if it costs too much money, you don’t need to bother.
Profits trump health and safety of workers every single time.
And if you argue, you get the sack.
The working class is as downtrodden as it has always been.
The last time I wrote about Ragged some four years ago, Sonel found it on Gutenberg. So, it is readily available 🙂
And in those four years, the working life has got worse. Or in many cases for my Gibraltarian friends, non-existent.
Warning: any replies that come out with trite comments about there are jobs for everyone, if they really want them, will not be tolerated.