Charlie runs a profitable plumbing business in London. He employs 200 workers, but wants to introduce a fairer pay structure.
This is how he describes the current set-up. “You look like you’re working hard? Have a few more quid. You look like a lazy bastard? Let’s take some money off you or get rid of you.”
Hence we come to the premise of last night’s Channel 4 documentary Show Me Your Money. Charlie challenges his workers to break a taboo and tell their workmates what they are earning—and then provide a case for why they should earn more.
Call centre workers, canteen staff, garage mechanics and plumbers are called before the boss. He proceeds to scrawl “£1,000,000” on a card and pin it at the top of a board. Reluctantly the workers follow suit.
The call centre workers are mainly women. They are shocked to find that equal pay is some way off. The young chap who has just joined their team has started £3,000 a year better off.
There’s more bad news for Mark in the garage. He’s found out that John earns £9,000 more than him for doing exactly the same job.
Canteen worker Tina realises that despite commuting for four hours a day to prepare meals for Charlie’s workforce, she is the lowest paid. She struggles on an income less than the London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour.
This experiment then takes a turn reminiscent of Labour’s Social Contract of the 1970s. The workers and management argue over who will take a pay cut to ensure some justice for the likes of Tina, Mark and Leanne in the call centre.
Charlie is sure as hell it won’t be him. “I pay enough out as it is,” the boss declares as he drives his Rolls Royce to work.
Perhaps it will be the call centre manager, Charlie’s son Scott, who rakes in a princely £120,000? “Dad’s company—get off my case!” is his retort.
Much of what the show exposes should come as no surprise to socialists and trade unionists—the divide and rule tactics played by our bosses, their nepotism and their appalling treatment of women workers.
It also underlines how bosses cannot run their businesses without us—PR manager Carl is a disaster in the kitchen and call centre—and emphasises how workers rely on each other. Orders grind to a halt when the plumbers answer the phones.
I don’t mind spoiling the story because it could only end one way. Cue teary piano notes that tell you Charlie has relented. He coughs up £80,000, matching the pay cuts offered by some of his managers and better paid workers.
Charlie is very emotional, and so he should be. His workers are happier and he has just secured a free hour-long advert for his company. I can see his career as a reality TV star taking off.
You can watch Show Me Your Money via Channel 4’s 4oD service