OK, I must be getting old. Here I am, firebreathing left-wing radical that I like to think I am, worrying about Director’s pay. Not however like everyone else in Britain it seems (apart from the bloodsucking Execs and Directors) on how to best reduce it. And as according to the newspapers today the Institute of Directors are criticizing it, I guess the only thing I can do to retain some radical credibility is question why!
I know, I know. I’m meant to hate the rich, being by our standards poor. And at times the bitterness and resentment does well up in me; but I no more resent the average CEO or company director their pay than I resent Chery Cole, Adele, Gary Lineker or David Beckham their money. I don’t really go for three of the above (and the one I like makes crisp ads in case you were wondering) but they are at the top of their businesses, and do well for themselves. Hurrah! The reason I am poor is I don’t work very much, and don’t have the opportunities, or the luck, others have. By sheer luck, by supreme effort, and by having been born wealthy, some will always have more than me. In fact given how I live, an almost incredible amount more. I have friends I see often who earn ten times what I do, but are not well off and indeed moan frequently about having no money. One of my friends owns two houses; his net wealth is perhaps a hundred times my own. According to Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety that should make me feel really insecure and bad: on the contrary, I’m really pleased he has done so well.
The truth is it is not high pay that concerns me. It is low pay.
Women still receive 10% less than men for the same jobs, and 299,000 people in the UK do not receive the legal minimum wage they are entitled to. That is absolutely shocking. These are things we should be concerned about, not how wealthy a few company directors are. Even if we put the richest CEO’s who earn 75 times the median wage for their organizations up against a wall and shoot them, that would still be what another £50 a year to each employee? Sure, I can see how a Scandinavian limit on earnings based on the median drives up the wages of the lowest paid – problem is if we instituted it here the would just outsorce more and more jobs I think, to contractors or abroad, to avoid having low paid employees on the payroll.
Turkeys Voting For Christmas
Now I’m sure for a professional body that represents directors to criticize director’s pay there must be something wrong with it and it really must be unsustainable, and to be fair the IoD is a standards body. Economically I guess they understand the business community better than I will. Most directors will never care that I am often left wondering where my next weeks groceries are coming from, or can’t afford to pay the Council Tax until I’m paid for a project, and struggle. I really should not feel sympathy for them. And compared with the “millions of hard working Brits” the papers often talk of, many of whom can only get part time minimum wage jobs, I don’t feel that much sympathy for the really well paid. Yet I can’t bring myself to hate them either.
It all feels like bullying. And yes, of course I blame the government, the Daily Mail, and the sadistic urges to punish that the British public seems to be reveling in and which is better confined to their kinky bedroom games than taken out on the unemployed, the long term sick, youth or whoever this weeks bogeyman is. Bankers, who I have despised for decades before it became fashionable, are now such pariahs I wonder how they sleep at night (“with beautiful ladeez on piles of money” is probably the reply.) Yet most people involved in banking were not investment bankers, and were not responsible for the crash, and of those who were, I guess a few actually contributed rather a lot to the national wealth. Certainly a lot sacrifice their family, friendships and health (and probably their souls 😉 ) to the ridiculous hours needed to make it in the City, and I can’t help feeling sorry for them.
Yet the papers revel in all this, and in the sickening bullying of the disabled and long term sick by the government. Look, we all know about the ATOS thing, and about how now apparently doctors are fine to administer the Health Service but aren’t competent to actually say if someone is sick and should be off work or not. This strikes me as something very close to insanity, and rightfully an awful lot of people are furious, about both aspects. Yet kicking the “sicko scroungers” (or the most deserving, vulnerable types in our society) has been hailed by the right wing press as masterful politics. It’s not: it’s something that if I was a politician and responsible for while handing out money to housing developers to save the property bubble that has rendered our economy utterly unstable would make me think heavily about investing in Factor 300 suncream and a pitchfork-proofed shroud for my sojourn in the afterlife…
In the House…
I’m all in favour of building new homes. Subsidized mortgages; fair enough though the tax payer taking the risk will only benefit those on fairly high (by my standards very high) incomes. The restored right to buy your council house at massive discounts, while it will create some wealthy stakeholders in society from the disadvantaged will ultimately benefit the developers who approach Martha and Joe and offer to front the money to buy their council house and then let them live there, but who on their deaths will inherit a very desirable and once publicly owned property and make a very nice profit. Still, that’s nothing like the scandal of Housing Benefit; the scandal being it acts as a way to subsidize low pay for millions of working people, to the benefit of shit employers and at huge cost to everyone in Council Tax. The only way round that is to raise the minimum wage, surely?
Representin’ the Private Sector!
Enough! I shall become as much a bully as those I despise. I’m angry, in a mellow kind of way, because of the utter insanity of this punitive attitude that evil doers are ruining the country, and we must take away their benefits/bonuses/sick pay whatever. It may be a reflection of Old Testament covenant theology, where God withholds his grace from the nation when the people turn to sin; but it has nothing to do with Christian compassion, common decency, or the genuine struggle for a more equal access society. We are encouraged to engage in Public Sector/Private Sector bickering, like an East Coast/West Coast gangsta rapper dispute, and ignore the fact that the reason the Private Sector has shit pay and conditions is that it is almost un-unionized in comparison. You want Public Sector level pensions? Join a union, organize a mass recruitment campaign, get recognized, get negotiating. It is that simple. If your employer tries to illegally suppress unionization, fight them in the courts, or however else you can. Stand up for your rights, demand minimum pay, proper conditions. Be vocal, not a sap. That is the way forward, not moaning about Directors pay.
And if you are really upset about Director’s pay, compare your pay with others doing the same job in your workplace. It may be that it is performance linked, or it may be based on terms of service, but plenty of people are earning ten thousand a year less than the person sitting next to them. So discuss it. It may be against your contract, check, but there are always way to get round this. Bear in mind however that if you have an annual performance review, your pay may vary based on that rather than any unfair prejudice against you, but if you think you have a case then raise it.
Talking ’bout My Generation…
OK, so I come from a generation of disaffected cynical beatnik losers. Well something narrower than a generation – the school leavers/graduates of 1990, who like the class of 1979 emerged in to a hostile economic climate that basically took our career aspirations, stamped all over them and then urinated on the fragments. When employers talk about “graduate jobs” they lie — they mean “new graduate jobs”, almost always. They don’t want someone with five years on the dole queue, serving fast food or stacking shelves – they want a shiny fresh faced kid straight from uni.
By the time the economic situation changed and bust turned to boom we were too old, too hairy, the grunge generation with no future. The class of 1979, 1991, 2008 – all kids who will forever struggle because they had the misfortune to be born in the wrong years, and to leave school or uni when no one wanted them. Look at the statistics, and it will bear me out I’m pretty certain. We were ******* by chronology, the cycle of boom and bust, and that we will carry that through our lives, and earn significantly on average less than those entering the workplace a few years either side of us. A few will excel, but it’s harder for us. Yes I like to whinge.
However, now the Government has turned its sights on Youth Unemployment, a worthy goal, and they have effectively re-invented New Labour’s scheme they cancelled a year or two back (soon after taking power) but it has been proclaimed across the land as a new and exciting thing. (See Channel 4 Fact Check for why there is very little new here .) Yet there is something almost hypocritical about all this, that no one is commenting on, because to do so will be to seem to attack pensioners and hard working brits…
The Young & The Old.
When the government announced plans to allow large numbers of young unemployed to do up to three months work in supermarkets or other jobs to gain experience for their CV’s, entirely unpaid (though they can still get their JSA), there was an outcry. Now at 30 hours a week, that is 360 hours per youngster that employers could get for free; very popular with employers, but hard to see why they would then go on to employ any of them at maybe £13,000 a year when they can get another JSA claimant to work for free. Well done chaps, you have re-invented some kind of indentured service, without any final reward. Slavery I think you call it?
Still it keeps the kids off the streets. Now the plan seems much more tepid – we are not going to give free labour to employers, instead we are going to pay them minimum wage, but twenty billion has been set aside to pay half their wages on behalf of the private companies that are going to “train” them and employ them in the short term. Woo! At a time of massive cuts in public spending and the decimation of the public sector we are going to subsidize private companies to the tune of twenty billion. Huzzah! Three cheers for the government! 😉
Yet, having just moaned about my generation, I can actually see the logic. We need to do something for our young people. Yet discrete inquiries suggests that already a lot of older people working for minimum wage fear losing their jobs, to be replaced by this cheap labour. And I fear an awful lot of them will be part time workers in shops and supermarkets who have passed retirement age, but are supplementing their income by doing a job they have loved and have twenty or more years experience in. They will be booted out, to be replaced by workers who cost half the amount, the government taking up the slack. And you can see the governments point – these people have State Pensions, whereas the million 16-24 year olds not in jobs or training are facing a future of quiet desperation unless they take these jobs.
Yet this is insanity. Not just for the human cost to those who will be replaced by these lovely youfs (who won’t be half as productive I guess!) but because the government has abolished the mandatory retirement age to allow people to so just this, keep working, and had repeatedly brought forward the raising of the pension age. If you are actually serious about getting these kids in to work you would pursue the opposite strategy – reduce the pension age to 60, and fund pensioners properly in their retirement off the wages of these bright young things. You can’t have it both ways. This way the supermarket becomes the bad guy, and the older generation still end up forced out of the workplace, but the Job Centres had best prepare for a silver haired influx.
It’s all X’s Fault!
None of this makes sense to me, but the British public still clamour for more punitive measures, for the sick, the young, the vulnerable and the doleys to be hit hard, and despite the inherent contradictions in what exactly doctors know about, whether we should be working longer or not, and whether the fault is the rich or the poor, all we get is bread, circuses and blood on the amphitheater floor. And the public bay for more, as tabloids scream against almost everyone in mounting hysteria.
Sometimes I think we get the politicians we deserve.