Friday, February 13, 2009

"The freedom to have your pay cut"...

...and why not the freedom to be raped, battered or have your car nicked? Tory MP Christopher Chope and his surreal anti-minimum wage rant remind us of his party's true colours.


The danger of twelve years of New Labour in power is that it's easy to forget the Tories' true nature. David Cameron has been very good at applying some Max Factor to the party's minging face. But it's in the interest of every single person in and out of work that the true substance of the Conservative party remains visible to all.

For evidence, look no further than Christopher Chope, Tory MP for Christchurch, Dorset. Incidentally, this is an MP who, according to the parliamentary record, voted very strongly against equal gay rights, very strongly in favour of the Iraq war, very strongly against laws to stop climate change and very strongly against the hunting ban.

When the minimum wage was brought in in 1999, Chope almost had a seizure. The idea that the weakest members of society could be paid a touch more really didn't agree with him. In the Commons, he barked that it would have "a massive impact on small enterprises", in line with his party's view that the minimum wage would quickly cause an economic collapse. Utter bollocks, as it turned out.

Which is why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, David Cameron was later forced to admit that the opponents of the minimum wage were wrong. The economic crisis did arrive, but it was certainly not caused by the notion that people should be paid peanuts instead of crumbs.
But that doesn't mean the old Tory instincts were kept at bay. Of course they would be daft to openly campaign to scrap the minimum wage as they wouldn't want to be seen as the party in favour of a pay cut to millions of workers in Britain. So, with the crisis as the perfect platform to attack workers' rights, they're now trying a sneakier, more bizarre approach.

On Wednesday, Mr Chope (photo) made one of the most ridiculous parliamentary speeches in history. He introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill pushing an opt-out clause saying that if you want to sod the minimum wage then you should be free to do so. The way Chope dressed it up was textbook and everybody should read it, if anything to be reminded of the Conservatives' true colours.
Chope sees it as a "basic human right" that people should be paid as little as possible if they so wish. Give him one year and he may table a motion for the freedom to be battered in the street: "Why should this nanny state criminalise a person's right to have the shit kicked out of them?", he may ask.

In his eyes, agreeing on a wage is a "private arrangement", "the decision of two consenting adults", as if a company and an individual had the same negotiating power. It doesn't cross his mind that bosses saying to a queue of desperados "2 quid an hour, take-it-or-leave-it" would kick start a race to the bottom which, in the words of Mike Ion in the Guardian, "would probably worsen the current tension between foreign workers and British workers". At that stage, which boss would be so daft not to take advantage of Chope's opt-out clause?

Echoing the ideology-soaked Thatcher years, Chope clings on to the old fetish, "the free market", where "people should be free to compete [...] without restriction", meaning of course that Britain was a much better place when waiters, cleaners, telephonists and all the profit fodder enjoyed the "freedom" to be paid as little as £1 an hour (or less).

Then the Tory MP goes on. He argues that, in line with the current mood, "in Ireland, Members of Parliament and senior civil servants have taken a 10 per cent pay cut" and that "[i]t is ironic that the only people without the freedom to take a pay cut are those on or just above the minimum wage". Read it back to yourself: The freedom to take a pay cut.

For this Tory, a 10% reduction applied to an MP or senior civil servants salary is on a par with a pay cut given to people on the bottom ladder of society. You bet all those minimum wage workers can't wait until Chope gets it his own way. You can already picture the cleaners staging mass demonstrations and walk outs in support of their "basic human right", holding banners such as "PAY US LESS, YOU CAPITALIST SWINE". "STOP SPOILING US WITH £5-52". And the slogan: "What do we want? A PAY CUT!" "When do we want it? NOW!".

15 comments:

Lee Griffin said...

The only problem I can see with it is that employers could essentially not employ people that refuse to opt-out...however it is easy to tighten that up with appropriate legislation.

I shall wait to see the bill in its entirety before passing judgement, but if there is a lower threshold set to the governments level of "minimum personal needs" then what problem is there with such regulation?

Also the idea of allowing asylum seekers to work is LONG overdue and worth being considered, and I hope enough time is given to give the bill a fair chance on that respect.

Helen Highwater said...

# Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.
# Voted strongly for an investigation into the Iraq war.

Oh dear.

He's obviously never had the kind of job where you earn next to bugger all. I had a waitressing-cum-kitchen-assistant job in 1997 where I earnt £2.50 an hour. It was so little that I walked home in the dark to avoid getting a taxi or bus home, which would've eaten nearly into my entire wages for the evening.

Neither has he read The Grapes of Wrath either where people desperate to work while their family starves to death will take any wage at all, spiralling downwards as others compete for the jobs by saying they'll work for less.

Typical Tory claptrap.

Anita said...

Lee,
but Chope doesn't say a single word about asylum seeker. By choosing to involve an issue that isn't mentioned at all you automatically give Chope 's argument some validity.

The only problem I can see with it is that employers could essentially not employ people that refuse to opt-out...however it is easy to tighten that up with appropriate legislation.

Which is what Chope wants to abolish. Funny sort of vicious circle, isn't it, Lee?

Lee Griffin said...

Anita: He did indeed talk about asylum seekers, check the records.

socialist sam said...

What we need instead is the Government to step up enforcement of the minimum wage in low-paying sectors, especially those that employ significant numbers of migrant workers, particularly agriculture and food processing and packing.

The minimum wage so far has not been enforced properly.
If the Tory MP's idea of an opt-out were to be successful then the weakest workers will be left with even less protection.

We are talking between 1.6 and 2m workers in Britain. All those doom-mongers who said the statutory minimum wage would cost millions of jobs were proven wrong.

Now they are simply trying to milk the financial crisis in order to sow the seeds for fatter profits when the downturn is over.

I'm no fan of this government but the NMW is one of its greatest achievements, and I hope Labour will have the balls to defend it from the Tories' stealth attack.

James Schneider said...

The fear that employers would force people to opt out (essentially removing the minimum wage at all) is a worthy one. However, there is an argument for short term cessations of the minimum wage:
One facet of the minimum wage is that it privileges those employed (relatively) over those not employed. In certain conditions one can see how it would be preferable to violate the minimum wage than increase unemployment.
Take this hypothetical:
A small business (hairdressers tend to be the classic example) pays its 6 employees £6 per hour in 2008 and makes on average £40 per hour plus enough to cover rent, business rates etc. In 2009 it on makes on average £30 per hour. In 08 the business made £4 per hour profit. In 09 unless costs decrease (lets assume rates, rent, and other costs are fixed) the business will lose £6 per hour. The business owner has to either take this on the chin, effectively subsidizing the lives of others whilst making less money, or decrease wages, or cut staff. It is probably preferable, in terms of human happiness, to lower the wages of all six employees to £5 per hour. The effects of the changed economic climate are then shared between the 6 employees and the owner, rather than just one employee getting shafted. The problem. £5 is just below minimum wage. In this circumstance, I can see a clear reason for a NMW exemption.

The challenge would be to create an addendum to the existing law which didn't undermine it, and only altered the relationship between the employed to the unemployed and not the worker to the owner. Something along the lines that only contracted staff, at the firm for a certain period of time (6 months?) could be paid less than minimum wage and only for a limited period (12 months). Furthermore, if that employee was sacked or made redundant within the following x months/years (12 months) they would receive their difference in their lowered wages as part of their redundancy package.
This system would prevent employers taking on new employees at lower wages. It would prevent the employer taking people on for six months, then paying them less then sacking them when they have to pay more because either the employee could leave the company, forcing the employer to hire at above the minimum wage, or the benefit to the employer of lower wages will be lost as the now departed employee receives their payoff. Furthermore, the employee who takes the pay cut will be given increased security in unstable economic times. If the firm does go under, they can still receive their lost income, and if it doesn't then the firm after a while has to increase their wages and is disincetivized from firing the employee.

The one outstanding problem is that this will incentivize an employer to maintain his current staff to the cost of those who may wish to work for him. They are put at a competitive disadvantage by the fact that a currently employed person could work for less. However, as this is envisaged as both a short term measure to get through temporary economic downturn and also envisaged in a climate where employers are likely to be looking to lose not gain staff, this problem is somewhat mitigated.

What do you think? Have I just done the equivalent argue for the freedom to be raped?

James Schneider said...

I don't think I have.

claude said...

James Schneider,

your idea is interesting and raises a few valid points I don't disagree with.

And, no, you haven't done the equivalent of arguing for the freedom to be raped.
But then again, let's be clear about this, your idea is not what Christopher Chope MP tabled in the Commons.

It was all that claptrap Chope spouted about "basic human right" and "freedom" that was irksome.

A Tory would probably find your ideas too "punitive" towards the employer.

Now,
One facet of the minimum wage is that it privileges those employed (relatively) over those not employed

First, let's clarify things.

The minimum wage doesn't privilege anyone.
It simply aims at ending years and years of barefaced exploitation by making the pay a little less humiliating and work notworthless (because otherwise benefits do become a more appealing prospects, that says it all).

The minimum wage exists as a line drawn by the government that clearly states "BELOW THIS [very low line] YOU CAN'T GO".

People here are confusing workers on a wage, perhaps even a low one, with those paid the bare minimum.

There are examples of workers on a permanent contract and a skilled job (say, a car factory), difficult to transfer, who accepted a reduction in hours or a mild reduction in pay. Say, £1100 a month down to £1000.

When you talk about minimum wage-people you're on about a totally different category. If you lower their wage even further you enter a range of pay that turns the whole notion of being in work into a joke.

Ask anybody who's worked a shitty food packaging job, or a bar job, or a cleaning job if they fancy doing it for even less and, I tell you, I wish I would be a fly on the wall when they answer.
Then let's not moan that we get too many people on benefits if all they get when in work is £2 an hour.

Now, you mention a lot of things, so let's have a look.

The business owner has to either take this on the chin, effectively subsidizing the lives of others whilst making less money,
Well...in principle...why not? You run a business. You take the risk. In good times you make profits and maximise the margins. When there's a crisis the margins shrink or worse.
Business owners are normally making a mint whilst the others do the hard-grafting for them.
It's worth recalling that those furiously against the minimum wage were doing so under exceptionally good economic circumstances. This is why, forgive my cynicism, I don't trust their intentions.

I remember an old boss of mine arguing like fuck against my request for a pay rise of £50-a-month (!)and two minutes later he showed me the brand new car he bought for his son (who was still a year away from turning 18 and had had no driving lessons yet).

But anyway, I'm diverging.

Those arguing against the minimum wage forget that there's already a leeway in the form of lower rates for the under21s. Incidentally, hairdressers traditionally make plenty of use of those as well as the "juniors".

So, your headlock-like proposal may simply incentivise a higher number of shopkeepers to go for the leeway.

The one outstanding problem is that this will incentivize an employer to maintain his current staff to the cost of those who may wish to work for him. ...

Exactly. Now that would marginalise those on the dole even further. And it's the last thing you need during a downturn.

Finally,
one simple set of actions can blunt the effectiveness of your proposal.

The 'disincentive' to the idea of making people redundant (the payoff that would have to be paid - you wrote: "[the employees] would receive their difference in their lowered wages as part of their redundancy package.
") can be sidestepped by hiring AGENCY WORKERS. Though they are entitled to the minimum wage, they are also entitled to ZERO redundancy money.

You will also find that a disproportionate number of workers on the minimum wage are agency workers and/or casuals.

Stan Moss said...

Lee Griffin,

"Also the idea of allowing asylum seekers to work is LONG overdue and worth being considered"

The fact that asylum seekers should finally be allowed to work has absolutely nowt to do with lowering the minimum wage.

In fact, if I may say so, this says a lot about certain people. I suppose they automatically see asylum seekers as 'lower creatures'.

You're an asylum seeker? Wanna do sum work? Then do it for peanuts...Less than the minimum wage in fact...

I suppose for the Tories that would be two birds with one stone.

But does Lee Griffin really support that?

James Schneider said...

Claude,
My proposal is evidently not what Chote said, but I still think we have to accept that there are legitimate criticisms of the minimum wage. We must think practically about it, as opposed to emotionally. We all want less poverty, less unemployment, higher wages, and a growing economy, but sometimes these aims will be contradictory. We can't be absolute.

Your first point about who is priviledged (or not) by the NWM does not even attempt to follow my reasoning. A wage of £4 an hour may be shit but by raising it to £5.50, it makes it less likely employeers will take on currently unemployed staff. Those on low pay do better, those not even in low pay do worse. Hence, relatively privaledged over the unemployed.

"Take it on the chin". This is an unacceptable position to take across the entire economy. If businesses start to go under, then all the employees will lose their jobs and the economic downturn will be exacerbated. Bosses may be wankers, but whilst they provide the jobs, they are needed.

"The one outstanding problem is that this will incentivize an employer to maintain his current staff to the cost of those who may wish to work for him. ..."
The NMW benefits those in work over those on the dole anyway. You can't reject my proposal out right because of this. Indeed, due to its limitted application, I do not envisage this being much problem.

Agency worker's wages would be able to be decreased. I said the employee had to have been with the company for a period of time (6 months?) and be on a contract. So your concern doesn't stand.

claude said...

James,
you say that my "concern doesn't stand" but you are talking about a sequence of hypothetical situations...! Some people would call it a "correlative fallacy", as you introduce another imaginary option into a true correlative.

For instance, in your imaginary scenario, all employees would get a "contract" (within 6 months of starting, you say as an exmaple). That would all be very nice - as I've repeatedly slated 'casualisation' as the bane of our times.
But, alas, it "doesn't stand".
The reality is that agency and casual workers make up a huge chunk of people on the minimum wage. And the last thing any government is going to change is the idea of introducing lenghty contracts with with agency workers.
More, it looks like that's the way it's going to be for a long time. Unfortunately.

If the trade-off was the rolling back of casualisation, then you'd see me demonstrating outside Westminster in support of a minimum wage reduction!

But let's stay with the real world, shall we?

"We must think practically about it, as opposed to emotionally"
when slavery was abolished people were saying the new situation would be "impractical". Tens of thousands of slaves who would "at least get some food and a roof" were now going to be left at the mercy of a variable free market.

The fear was that the end of slavery would create masses of unemployed, starving, homeless people.

Therefore, when you write:

"We all want less poverty, less unemployment, higher wages, and a growing economy, but sometimes these aims will be contradictory. We can't be absolute"...

...it's all very well we cannot be absolute, but lowering wages is not the answer. I know your scenario is not the same as Chope's parliamentary motion, but this article was about Chope's proposal, not yours. And at the moment the danger is that his view may prevail.

Emma said...

James, A few points/question for you:

Do you speak how you write? Cessations, 'Take this hypothetical', Addendum...

I thought an Addendum was a type of houseplant?

You seem to favour the Toryesque attitude of business over human being, which is a little strange for an 'ardent liberal' - but on second thoughts not so strange for someone who describes himself as a "theology student" (at Oxford?) and "cricket lover" if you excuse my gross generalisation.

Do you really think that thousands of workers can survive on the minimum wage, let alone less?

Because, if the pay is so low, what is to stop people from just living on benefits?

claude said...

Like I wrote on Liberal Conspiracy,
if your business is going bust, saving 50p per worker won't be the one thing that keeps it afloat.

If costs have to be cut, let them cut a whole range of stuff but not the workers' wage at the bottom.

Reduce the managers' pay. Or the junior managers'. Or make your welcome packs or adverts a little less glossy.

Or sell your second Porsche. Or don't buy your wife a 4x4. Get her a Ford Fiesta instead.

Or cut out the fancy furniture, annoying marketing techniques, or other frills. Or maybe work on the supply chain. Or get rid of those pathetic managers' meetings with free food, entretainment or even trips to exotic places.

If all that failing you still think you have to undercut wages then it means it's time to close down.

James Schneider said...

Claude,
Closing down means that everyone is out of a job. My proposal would provide limitted help in specific circumstances to prevent unemployment.
I'm not suggesting lowering wages to save businesses because I have any affection for businesses over people (emma). It is an affection for people which seeks to protect their jobs. Sometimes there is a contraction in the economy. The debate for labour decreases. Either we work out ways to spread this cost out around society, or we let it affect only those who are unlucky enough to be affected. Clearly the later is an abomination. Therefore, we have redistribution (not enough), and welfare (badly run), and unemployment insurrance (not properly marketised) which is certainly something. My proposal is on the side of protecting the worker from the misery of unemployment.

Emma,
Now, now, no need to be rude. Just because I like cricket and am a student at a posh University doesn't make me either a Tory or an enemy of the people. Grow up.

Your questions clearly demonstrate that you haven't actually considered what I wrote above. I offered a specific proposal distinct from Chope's and not supporting it. Your response is to ask two general questions about low wages and benefits. My proposal only touches those subjects in a limited manner. It does not support the lowering of wages, or the ending of minimum wage, or anything like that at all. Its an attempt to prevent the affects of a downturn being visitted on those most vulnerable. Spreading out the loss. Perhaps if you have time to postulate as to my class (or whatever) identity as the route of my thoughts, maybe you could read them too? After which you could specifically tell me what's wrong with them.

claude said...

James,
I explain above why your proposal has too many bits verging on the "imaginary". For example your glossing over what agency workers would do in the real world.

And, above all, my last comment (Thursday, February 19, 2009 6:13:00 PM), explains what I'd do before even thinking of reducing people's wages. And I stand by that.