Workers’ rights

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.

Workers’ rights?

The working class is as downtrodden as it has always been.

      Editor’s note:

      The last time I wrote about Ragged some four years ago, Sonel found it on Gutenberg. So, it is readily available 🙂

Britons never shall be Slaves. Hmm.

Britons never shall be Slaves.
Hmm.

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.

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About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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27 Responses to Workers’ rights

  1. makagutu says:

    I was about to write a trite comment and then I saw your warning 😦
    I see this here too. People and even professionals willing to work for so little just to make some money. I don’t have the vocabulary to define it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. john zande says:

    The wonderful Free Hand of the Market at play 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s bad. There was a brief period in the UK and Aus (the only two we seriously know) when wages were good. I could earn more as a sandwich hand in sydney than as an editor on a 4WD magazine 😦 And, I liked making sandwiches 😉 Seriously, I’m not joking, I did enjoy working in sandwich bars. Good hours, free food, good money.
      But that was 30 years ago. Now? People are desperate. People of all ages. Society is falling into a deep chasm. I see the workhouse looming for my old age 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sonel says:

    No workers’ rights here either. It seems with some employers promises are things that are made to be broken. Everything here is getting more expensive by the day and the salaries stay the same. Most employers let go of workers and give the work to someone else and expect them to do the work of 3 people for the same salary. The list goes on and on. You are right. The real winners are the employers and who cares about the rest?

    I think the one who said that there are jobs for everyone, if they really want it, never had to work for a cent in his/her life. They should try and work in a small community where everyone knows everyone and where the self-entitled majority treat others like dirt just because they weren’t raised as brats.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I see it just getting worse for people Sonel. Since my last post in 2012 on this topic, the rates have dropped and more local people are out of work. WTF is that all about? Because, employers enjoy a harder time riding roughshod over local people. Not just me and A, but our Gib friends too. Cross-border workers will do anything for a job. And this is a socialist government in Gib? Looking after local people? Ha tee ha.
      Your husband isn’t a dissimilar age to mine. Still willing and wanting to work, because where the hell does the money come from? Your children, like our young friends, need work.
      But no, no legal contracts. Nothing. No rights. And yet, it’s the most unlevel playing field ever in my life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sonel says:

        Yes, it does RS. It’s really sad and I wonder what is going to happen to most of us? Around here it’s the same with the cross-border workers and most of them come in and start trading with drugs and prostitutes. When the locals stand up for themselves and for their jobs, they’re accused of xenophobia.

        Yup, still willing and wanting but most employers look for younger ones but they must have their own cars and a long list of requirements and with the pay they’re getting they can’t even afford the petrol for the car or go and live on their own. Then you get the ones that’s been just as long as hubby’s been with the company, but he must do all their work because they never wanted to learn or have even been interested to acquire the knowledge and expertise he has. Now he has to do the job of 3 people with the same pay.

        Yes, and if there are contracts it only protects the employer most of the time. No rights at all and you shouldn’t complain because you should be grateful that you still have a job. That’s the attitude most of the employers have. They keep forgetting that it’s the employees that keeps the business running and if it wasn’t for them, they wouldn’t have had a company in the first place.

        Very unleveled playing field indeed. But I believe that the one who laughs last, laughs best. Things will not always be this way. The wheel will turn. 😀

        Like

  4. Sounds a bit like Southernomics which is alive and well here in the states, especially the southern states.

    “Southernomics,” an economic policy honed in the Old South, is spreading across the United States, says Lind, author of “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. … Its leaders refined the practice of exploiting workers, busting unions and being stingy with investments in public services. Each tactic was designed to create a desperate and powerless workforce that could be exploited by Northern and overseas businesses, Lind and other historians say.
    ….
    Their pattern is the same as that of the 19th century Southern elite — weaken workers’ power and lure corporations with promises of low taxes and minimal regulation, Lind says.

    Measures that would make life easier for ordinary workers — guaranteed health care, unemployment benefits, minimum wage laws — are all opposed under Southernomics because they make workers less dependent on their employers, Lind says.

    “If you have free universal health care and free education supported by public school taxes, then you have more bargaining power with your bosses,” Lind says. “But if everything is privatized, and ordinary Americans have to pay for everything through their wages, then they’re at the mercy of their employers. If the workers know they’ll be ruined if they lost their jobs, they’re not going to be uppity.

    You want to break their spirit.”

    Source

    Every Southern state is a “right-to-work” state, which means it has laws that make it more difficult for unions to organize, they don’t have to pay you the federal minimum wage, and they can fire you for any reason. A right to work state means employees have no rights.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Totally. Although I did adore Vivien. However that isn’t the point. And, hmmmm, how much was she a product of patriarchal society? However I digress.

      I’ve heard about the right-to-work, aka right-to-fire, prob from PT for obvious reasons.

      Truth is though, workers can have all the legal rights under the sun and still lose their jobs unless there is protection through unions. And that doesn’t exist any more.

      Like

  5. @RSitM

    In Canada, we’ve had an uptick of people slandering the recent wave of immigration as ‘those people’ are receiving benefits, training, and support. Ironically, their concerns were voiced only when immigrants were coming, as to before, their advocacy for the poor was almost entirely unvoiced.

    Capitalism excels in dividing labour and promoting infighting. Better to have the plebs in sectarian turmoil, than directing their anger toward the root of the problem. See pretty much all of neo-liberalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hariod Brawn says:

    Could hardly bring myself to read this, as I’ve just come away from a Tory’s blog in which he was arguing that rampant, unregulated free markets [a.k.a. Neoliberalism] has been a marvellous force for good in the world, and that trickle-down economics means the poor have never had it so good. I need a drink. You said we could swear: fucking Tories.

    Like

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