Monday, 27 October 2008

Who's for the chop?

There's serious concern that the rising unemployment caused by the banking meltdown will mean further discrimination against groups of people already treated badly by employers.

Despite recent British anti-ageism laws, it's feared that firms cutting jobs will look first at the oldies and start muttering about "early retirement". They might find ways of not hiring older people and favouring younger applicants "with growing families and big mortgages".

Women, already getting a raw deal from many employers, may be painted even more as liabilities, about to get pregnant and demand maternity leave, wanting flexible hours to fit in with their children's needs, and not tough enough at the negotiating table. They'll be edged out in favour of "more reliable" males.

Likewise the disabled may be seen as "not up to the job" and "not productive enough" while the able-bodied are given priority.

Bosses who're naturally averse to certain types of employee will use the pretext of disastrous trading conditions and looming insolvency to say that while they reluctantly conform to equality laws when the economy's booming, in the midst of a recession they have to take tough decisions and not take on the "burden" of "less capable" staff. You can easily predict all the spurious excuses and red herrings they'll come up with.

Which is why it's so vital for the government to help businesses to cut their costs in ways that don't involve dumping so-called "underperforming" workers. If they could cut overheads like rent, taxes and utility bills, which are rising dramatically, then a lot of sackings could be avoided.

But Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, has already suggested a cutback in flexible working (which is particularly helpful to women) in preference to other measures. Women have reacted furiously to his suggestion.

So if you're old, or female, or disabled (or black), don't be too optimistic as the recession starts to bite.


  1. Oh the percentage of the population Nick, that are deemed 'expendable' or 'marginal'. Particularly and always working mothers. On double duty. I speak from experience.
    The short-sightedness of hurting the future of the next generation never ceases to amaze me. The newly disadvantaged thrust into poverty because their (single?) mothers are unemployable.
    My fury has never left me, obviously!
    The ripple effect of bigcorp greed is never so visible as when times get tough.

  2. www - As you say, the real attitudes of the big business bosses become more evident when their profits are threatened and pretensions of fairness can easily slither away.

  3. Nick I've worked through recessions before and in good times. As a single parent myself, the glass ceiling remained intact for both. Big business is far more ruthless when hiring and firing but opportunities are there if you're prepared to give up your home life. Many men are . .few women do.But you're right about one thing, this current economic climate will give an opportunity to fire the less productive/fortunate of us.I now work in a smaller business which is family friendly (fat lot of good that does me now that mine have grown) and unless it goes down the gurgler (it won't) we're all secure. Then Australia is still predicting growth not recession.

  4. Baino - Australian banks have obviously behaved more sensibly than Britain's and haven't gone into a collective nosedive. Predictions are the British recession has hardly started. It's anybody's guess how the traditionally marginalised employees will fare.

  5. It's amazing how all the lip service about "Our company cares for you" etc gets flushed down the toilet the minute things turn bad - meanwhile they will continue to pay execs ridiculous bonuses completely out of line with the pay cuts they give the average Joe - When will they make exec and CEO bonuses fall in line with profit? - why should thousands of people be laid off but a CEO get a bumper bonus? - "Somethings rotten in the state of Denmark" and almost every other country for that matter

  6. p.s. - Just noticed your 'I Hate Xmas' logo - DITTO! especially Ads in October

  7. Quicky - When the government spent billions bailing out the wrecked banks, they insisted there would be no more executive mega-bonuses. But it's reported that the bonuses are still merrily flowing. The banks have complete contempt for both taxpayers and customers.

    Our plan for this Christmas is to be lounging on a hot Sydney beach....

  8. Hi Nick,

    Well I work in the city in a firm which is doing OK-ish (you know just keeping its head above water), hoping to ride out the recession without redundancies if possible, but there may be no pay rises and no bonuses this year ...

    .... and even though I am a woman this is what the knock on effect of a lot of women taking maternity leave feels like to one of the single women left holding the can (doing all the work):

    1. Five secretaries (and three female bosses) are currently pregnant in our company and due to go on mat leave within the next 4 months. One of these *possibly* has chosen to get preggers as a way of protecting her job as she has only *just* qualified for mat leave and has been with the company the least amount of time -- if she wasn't going on mat leave she would actually be one of the employees with shortest service if redundancies were going to be made on a "last in, first out" basis.

    2. Two of the jobs are already covered on a part time basis, with one yummy mummy doing 2 days a week and the other doing 3 days a week .... this often ends up with odd tasks not being done and getting offloaded elsewhere (i.e. me) and leads to the yummy mummies needing to leave at 5pm ..... so who gets clobbered to stay late when all the mummies with their reduced hours have left the building? Me.

    3. Because our employer is currently in a recruitment freeze situation, "float" secretaries (like myself) who are supposed to only be used for short term holiday and sickness cover will get used in the long term mat leave seats and other vacant seats that the company is now unable to recruit for. Currently 2 out of 7 float secretaries (myself and one other) are stuck in long term seats. By March next year when all the mat leave ladies are away there will be at least 5 float secretaries covering long term seats, and only 1 or 2 "float" secretaries left to cover every other eventual emergency / holiday / sickness / panic rush job in the firm.

    4. In a large firm like where I work (which is the kind of firm which abides by the rules of employment legislation) the yummie mummies are actually in a much more secure job position.

    5. Meanwhile those of us left in the office have to stretch our resources ever more thinly on the ground, or work for more bosses because there is insufficient secretarial cover.

    6. How much this costs the firm -- filling vacant seats while also paying the yummie mummie her own salary for several months I have no idea -- but my own layman's estimate is *expensive* when all those 8 staff (5 secretaries and 3 female bosses) will essentially be NON productive, in terms of producing work or helping to generate profits for the firm for the next 9 - 12 months -- non-productive and just a liability that the company *has* to shoulder the burden of for nearly a year (whilst *also* paying another employee to cover those 8 jobs!).

    7. The rest of us get "dumped on" with the extra work, and covering their backs, and doing extra hours because we must not mess with the specially agreed "altered working hours" that the yummie mummies have managed to agree with their employer when they return.

    I'm sorry if this seems like I am on this occasion a reactionary right wing monster, I'm usually fairly liberal but this is the *other* side of the coin of maternity leave, viewed as a single person in a *non* secure job, having to cover the backs and take on the extra work of the mat leave queens who are going off on paid holiday for several months with a *guaranteed* job on their return.

    And what happens if when they return the economy is in a WORSE situation and the company thinks they can't afford to take all 8 yummie mummies back on -- it WON'T be them that suffer I can assure you -- that would be wrong and go against all employment laws -- therefore what would happen is that some OTHER staff who had less than two years' service would be sacked for some technical non performance issue, and the yummie mummies would be taken back on, no question -- the employer knows they will be in huge trouble if they don't offer the guaranteed return to work at the end.

    The atmosphere in the office for those of us struggling through the recession, not sure about our job security, with whispers of redundancies, no pay rises, and office politics galore, and knowing (as a float) that the opportunity to "float" in the firm has been removed for at least a year due to (1) the recruitment freeze and (2) the number of maternity leave seats needing cover is a very, very poor atmosphere .... but the mat leave queens with their feet up at home, cooing over their new babies will not be aware of this at all.

    Here endeth my rant -- just an alternative point of view!


  9. Sharon - Not necessarily right wing and reactionary, a very valid viewpoint and I sympathise entirely. Jenny has been in situations in the past not a million miles from yours. There are obviously good reasons for maternity leave, but at the same time it can put a huge burden on those still at work filling the gap. Your situation with so many people off at once sounds horrendous.

    What I suspect will happen is not you being edged out but some of the others for fear of further pregnancies and maternity leave. The law may theoretically protect them but there are many ways of dodging the law, as I've seen often in my own workplaces. Managers being brusque and unfriendly, lavish payoffs etc.

    Of course the new mothers might not have their feet up cooing over the new baby. They might equally be at their wits' end dealing with non-stop crying, ailments and sore nipples, while hubby demands his evening meal!

  10. As a woman on the verge of maternity leave and without a 'proper' job, I can only say "oh shit."

  11. And regarding Sharon's statements (to which she is, of course, entitled) it reads more to me like a problem with the management than with the "yummy mummies." I don't think it is an accident that the higher ups have us women at each other's throats about this issue. This way we can happily blame each other while they ignore their responsibilities.

    And regarding mothers having a period of "non-productivity"...those children they are having will be paying pensions someday. We need people to have babies in order to keep the economy ticking over. I'm not saying you have to do it, and more power to the people that make the intelligent decision to not have children if they don't want them, but for goodness sake don't give off about the tiny (yes, they are TINY) concessions that are given to the people who choose to have families.

    I'm not saying Sharon is not entitled to be enraged at her work situation - but I do think she should consider a bit more carefully at whom she is enraged.

  12. FG - Well, I shouldn't worry about it too much. I'm painting a sort of worst case scenario but obviously it'll vary from firm to firm. Some will do everything by the book while others try to bend the rules. Hopefully your boss will abide by the law.

  13. FG - Good point about the bosses trying to buck-pass to women while evading their own responsibilities. Very true also about needing a new generation to pay for pensions (and of course the other public services). It's a complex picture of course because the rest of us are also paying for children's upbringing (not to mention the taxes wasted on things like nuclear missiles and the Iraq War). I just hope if firms start misbehaving the government will jump on them, but I won't hold my breath.

  14. I can see things getting very gloomy indeed. The government bailing out the failed banking system after they gambled away the reserve (so much for fractional reserve banking) is effectively putting everyone of us in debt. For many generations too.
    Companies will fail as trade slows down, I hear that Factories area already telling staff to stay at home. This can only last so long before redundancies happen.

  15. Muddy - Unemployment is already rising and I expect the rate of job losses will speed up over the coming months. The continuing credit squeeze by the banks, despite the bailouts, can only make things worse.