Monday, 13 February 2012

Need for revolution in the workplace

There needs to be a fundamental rethink about the world of work agenda.A consensus stretching from the Occupy London Movement through the trade unions to the Archbishop of Canterbury and enlightened business leaders argues that the present market driven system is not working.The system has produced obscene inequalities of wealth between a few rich people and everybody else. Large companies that use the labour and resources of the UK avoid paying taxes. The poor and vulnerable are made to pay the costs in terms of deficit reduction. These are parasitic forms of capitalism.There needs to be some new thinking based on the common good. What is the rationale in Britain today for a situation where there are more than 1 million 18 to 24 years olds unemployed, yet at the other end of the scale the retirement age is being continually extended upward?At some point there has to be a readjustment, enhancing pensions and lowering the retirement age so that more older people can retire in order to free up jobs at the other end for youngsters.One interesting idea to come from the New Economics Foundation is that there should be a shorter working week. The suggested level is 20 hours a week, which would mean more jobs to go round, allowing people to spend increased time with their families. Economist Robert Skidelsky argues that even when the downturn ends there will be fewer jobs to go round due to technological advances. He suggests that the government should legislate for a maximum working week. The paying of a living wage would also play a crucial part in this type of settlement; given that another unsavoury element of the present system is the reliance on low wage economy with people being driven down to accept the lowest remuneration possible. This race to the bottom results in some being forced to do two or three low paid jobs to keep themselves afloat, hardly good for family life. A shorter working week, that encompassed genuine flexibility, would provide more time particularly for parents to spend with their children. The present economic system that has urged parents out to work has caused untold damage in terms of parenting for children. This cost is becoming increasingly obvious in society as the years go by.A move toward shorter working weeks and a lower retirement age would ofcourse fly in the face of the previous orthodoxy of people working ever longer hours for less pay. This was evidenced last week by a report from the Labour Force Survey that found 5.3 million workers put in an average of 7.2 hours of unpaid overtime a week last year, worth around £5,300 a year per personThere would ofcourse have to be other measures brought in so that people could work 20 hours and support their families. Another area in need of focus would be retirement. The retirement age needs to be brought down not pushed inexorably up in the hope that more people will die in work, thereby denying them the state pension they have slaved for years to earn.It is a sobering thought that the latest state retirement age of 67 is just three years less than when the pension was first established back in 1911.There is much rubbish talked about people living longer and not being able to afford pensions. There is a surplus of over £50 billion in the National Pension Fund, where the National Insurance contributions reside to pay state pensions. Company pensions are similarly misrepresented by measuring solvency on the basis of everybody drawing their pensions on the same day. This will never happen. Indeed, many will die without drawing a pension or only having received a small draw down on the total they invested.An elderly population supported by decent pensions will able many to do voluntary work in the community. Many already fulfil substantial childcare roles for their grandchildren.It is these types of inventive ideas that focus upon the common good of all, rather than the well being a few wealthy individuals and institutions that should form the bedrock for economic policy moving forward. The present short termist approach seems likely only to result in a generation of young people struggling to find work, while the elderly are forced to work or face a life of poverty. Inbetween these groups are people struggling to bring up children in impoverished conditions.A little enlightened thinking with a focus on the common good could provide a much better work/life balance for all in the land.

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