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As anger and contempt at the 'Olympishambles' and for G4S' astoundingly hapless CEO fill columns and airwaves, little attention is being paid to the light this débâcle has shed on the callous and amoral attitudes towards employment which are taking root in our culture.
The term 'working class' is often used as a euphemism for 'less well educated'. It can be associated with pride in one's origins or with as sneers such as 'chavvy'. Perhaps the Marxist definition gets us nearer to what matters – men and women who sell their labour and do not own the means of production. That's a lot of us. And what we are selling should form part of a contract based on fairness and respect.
Respect is not on the agenda of many big corporates. G4S, seeking to maximise the profits offered by a government contract, has treated applicants for security jobs associated with the Games with contempt. After undergoing initial interviews and basic training, large numbers of them have had no further information from the organisation they had been led to believe were their new employers. Emails have gone unanswered, phone calls left on hold or cut off and new employees told to report to addresses which do not exist. It is hardly surprising that so many of them have subsequently failed to show for various assignments.
Another security firm, CPUK, entered into a contract with the Greater London Authority, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office to provide 'work experience' stewards for the Diamond Jubilee river pageant. The company made no provision for the accommodation or food of many of those whom they had recruited. This might not have been employment in the sense of exchanging labour for money, but it was nonetheless a working relationship imposing responsibilities. It might be argued that those responsibilities were greater because of the skewed balance of power inherent in such an arrangement. To leave its recruits to bed down under a bridge and to change into their uniforms in public is to make it quite clear that consideration for their dignity was not high on CPUK's agenda.
And it is dignity which lies at the centre of all work relationships. Employer and employee may have different levels of power at their disposal, but where each has respect for the legitimate rights of the other, the outcome is likely to be a harmonious working environment. If what might be called the 'balance of power' is distorted, fear, resentment and inefficiency are the inevitable result. This seems so obvious that one would think that employers for whom ethics are not the first consideration, might be sufficiently pragmatic to realise that a fairly treated workforce is generally a productive one.
It is evident that many large concerns perceive those on their payrolls to be disposable units rather than individuals with whom they should enter into a moral contract. Paying the lowest possible wages, minimal investment in training and the imposition of 'flexible' employment conditions are not confined to the companies who have cashed in on the current fantasy that privatisation and outsourcing are the answer to public and social provision.
These one-sided conditions are often presented as being prerequisites for enterprise. Employers who have adopted this approach give every impression of seeing their workforces as potential obstacles in the way of commercial success. If you doubt that, search for expressions of condemnation or disagreement from business leaders when the Beecroft report, commissioned by David Cameron's former advisor Steve Hilton, suggested that 'no-fault dismissal' was “a price worth paying for all the benefits that would result from the change.”
There will always be work-shy employees who will seek to give as little as they can get away with in return for their pay. But they are in the minority. Most people want to work hard, give value and feel themselves valued by their employer. They also want to receive appropriate training, reasonable job security and a living wage.
To treat workers as faceless components or as opponents to be dominated rather than as partners in an enterprise, is both immoral and unintelligent. Neither the cohesion of society nor the health of the economy can long survive these failings.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen