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Politics is boring!

August 15th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 8 Comments · Politics

Anyone who has done around knocking on doors for a political party will have heard the complaints many times: "politics is boring", "its not relevant to me", and "they are all the same anyway".  There is some truth in that of course.  Even those of us involved in politics, albeit in a small grass roots sort of way, sometimes struggle to find politics relevant or interesting.

A lot of this is down to the way that a lot of politics is reported, with Westminster-based journalists making a big deal of the slightest nuance of something trivial that nobody who is not already part of the 'Westminster Village' circus can get at all worked up about.  Even when there might be some practical implications for us normal people, that can be glossed over as its not as interesting to the in-crowd.

The Tories must be hoping that nobody takes the time and effort to translate Redwood's latest big idea into plain English for everyone to see.   For example, there is the matter of the Working Time Directive and guaranteed holidays.

Most of us enjoy at least 5 weeks of paid holiday with bank holidays on top of that, and the fact that the legal minimum is 4 weeks including bank holidays is just one of those things we can't believe anyone would stick to. The unions have been campaigning for a long time to get the minimum holidays to be exclusive of public holidays, but as most of us already enjoy those  sorts of conditions it is hard to get a lot of support.

But there are still some companies sticking to that minimum.  Jayne went for an interview just over the road from where I work, and was offered a job, which she didn't accept.  The place did sound a bit Dickensian.  It sold stuff, but the boss didn't believe in computers so orders were written down onto forms by hand and not entered into an order system with links to a stock control system, invoicing system etc.  The staff were also expected to wear a uniform for their job taking phone calls from customers.  The pay looked quite good as an annual figure, but it turned out that the working week was at least 40 hours and there were only 15 days holiday.

During the interview the boss said that he knew most employers gave 4 weeks on top of public holidays, but it was not a legal requirement so he saw no point in giving more than he needed to.  You do wonder whether he would reduce holidays even further if he was allowed to, and you have to wonder how many more are like him.

If the Tories gain control while people like Redwood and Osborne are still in the party we could find out.  I am lucky.  I work for a large international company, which has significant union activity and a need to attract and retain the best skills to remain competitive in a high-tech industry.  Most of those staff value their conditions as highly as the bottom-line salary and have at least a basic grasp of the concept of work/life balance.  If we were offered a huge hike in salary in exchange for losing our holidays many of us would turn it down or start knocking at the doors of more enlightened companies, but we are in a position to do that.

Many workers would have no choice.  There are companies which put strong pressure on staff to sign waivers to opt out of the working hours limit even to the point of not hiring someone who refuses. [*] Those are the companies which would happily reduce annual leave entitlements – maybe only for new joiners at first.

Its a gross generalisation, but those workforces tend to be made up of people less likely to vote, and the most likely to be justifying that by saying that politics is boring and its not relevant to me. And whose fault is that?  Partly mine, for not being able to explain properly how politics might not be a bundle of laughs but is very relevant indeed.  They are not going to get this information from the media, and who else is gonig to tell them?

I think I have been wasting my time delivering a load of letters in the last couple of weeks when I could have been talking instead.


[*] My employers are not so bad. They do routinely present us with the waiver form, but only as part of the induction after you join, and they don't make an issue of it if you don't sign.  But here's a handy tip for anyone faced with a rogue company:  sign the form, get the job and then give them the formal notice you want to cancel that waiver.  They won't like it, and might make life difficult, but they can't sack you for it without attracting a court case. 

Another handy tip is to join a union first and then cancel the waiver.  Even if the company does not recognise the union they will know that the union would give you legal advice and support and might behave a bit better when you refuse to be worked every hour of the day.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Ash

    “a basic grasp of the concept of work/life balance”

    oh dear – more Noo-Labour speak.

    Many people NEED to work long hours to be able to pay the bills, bills that have risen faster than wages for most people.

    If Council Tax hadn’t doubled, other taxes soared and utility bills increased through the roof then people might be more concerned about their ‘work-life balance’

    As it is they have to do longer hours to stand still – especially in those sectors of the economy like construction that have been hit hard by the influx of immigrants.

    I find it a bit rich for somebody belonging to a party that has encouraged immigration to keep wages and inflation low and raised taxes massively to then complain about people working long hours.

  • Skuds

    I used to think ‘work/life’ balance was meaningless jargon until the year I saw my income drop by more than £10k but found I was much happier.

    I’m not sure why you persist in seeing immigration as the cause of every problem though. Its a recurring motif of yours. Tax is, but not because it has increased. I don’t think the overall taxation is very different, but the fact it is still too tilted towards those who can afford it less is the concern.

  • Ash

    skuds – you obviously dont see immigration as a problem because you are not affected by it.

    try asking somebody in the construction industry who has seen rates fall by 30% in the past 5 years due to increased competition from construction workers from other parts of europe.

    its easy to be blase about the effects of immigration if it doesn’t hurt your pay packet at the end of the week.

    I’m glad that you think that overall taxation has not risen – pity that the IMF and OECD dont agree with you 🙂

  • Danivon

    Ash>Many people NEED to work long hours to be able to pay the bills, bills that have risen faster than wages for most people.

    So, does that mean that employers should be forcing everybody else to work longer hours, or that the Tories should be supporting them in doing so?

    Ash>try asking somebody in the construction industry who has seen rates fall by 30% in the past 5 years due to increased competition from construction workers from other parts of europe.

    Is this the same construction industry which, ohh about 5 years ago, was complaining that there was a massive skills shortage, which was driving up wages to a peak and restricting the ability of this country to meet demand? Is it not inevitable that this would attract people into the field, thus reducing the shortage and so reducing the wages?

    You forget, of course, that the government didn’t bring people over from Poland, it was just a consequence of the expansion of the EU and the free movement of people that led to some industries being corrected. If it helps, it’s the same rules that allow people from this country to move to cheap houses in Europe, or easily get work in Denmark (seems that there is a spike in demand for IT in the financial sector at the moment, and a lot of UK people are going over there, presumably to undercut the local’s wages).

    The thing about freedom of trade and open markets is that they work best with freedom of movement too.

    More to the point, is it not likely that immigration would lead to a higher demand for housing and other construction, which would then create a greater demand for construction work over the medium term?

  • Ash

    Who’s suggesting that anyone be forced to work longer hours – all that is suggested is that people be allowed to work longer hours if they want (or need) to.

    You are of course correct in that immigration leads to a higher demand for housing – a demand that is not being met so we see the massive rise in prices as a result – with the subseqent extra costs that result in people needing to work longer to be able to afford. 🙂

  • Danivon

    If you read the original post, you will see that it talks about how some UK employers are trying to bully employees into waiving their rights to a 48 working week, and that the Tories, well Redwood anyway, sound like they want to remove the rules that makes such behaviour unlawful.

    Well, now that there are a load of people willing to work at lower rates, reducing the costs to developers, perhaps the housing demand can be met. Wouldn’t bother me much if house prices stopped rising at 10% a year to be honest (even if I would be a lot better off personally).

    Of course, there’s nothing stopping you or anyone else from the UK moving to somewhere cheaper, within the UK or elsewhere in the EU.

  • skud's sister

    Some taxes, including council tax, have risen and this may be one of the reasons why many people are feeling that their wages don’t go far enough anymore but lets consider another option and look around ourselves and see how much stuff we now feel is essential. We must have a roof over our heads, food and clothing but the cable TV, the broadband, the car per adult household member, the branded trainers for every child, the pre-prepared food flown around the world (because cooking takes too long if you are working all these extra hours), the portable DVD player to keep the kids amused for any car journey longer than 10 minutes are now seen by many as more essentials. The reason that immigration doesn’t lead to more money in the economy is because many of them are sending anything which doesn’t feed, clothe or house themselves to feed, clothe and house a larger family back home. I cannot see that makes immigration wrong – only our own greed.

  • Skuds

    I dare say immigration brings some problems, but only as a subset of migration, and not even the subset with the most impact.

    By coincidence, I was thinking about priorities this afternoon (forgot to take my mp3 player on the bus into town) with particular reference to Surinder Arora.

    His parents had absolutely nothing 60 years ago when they moved from Pakistan to India at partition and left everything behind, and now he has more than £220 million. I was speculating about how much his parents had to sacrifice to be able to have some spare money to lend Surinder to start his first business venture.

    I was wondering if any of us could have ended up as wealthy if we had been willing to go without all the non-essentials (holidays, meals out, stereos, booze, fags, cable TV, etc.) for long enough.

    I know that if I still had everything I had spent on anything other than food, rent & clothes over the years I would be pretty well off, even without using it to seed a business. Don’t know if I would be happier though.