Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1799

Work is still a four letter word

This article is over 20 years, 1 months old
THE MYTH that workers are better off with the flexible labour market in Britain has been powerfully exposed in a new report. Workers are working harder for more hours and under greater stress than they were ten years ago, according to research in Britain's World of Work-Myths and Realities by Richard Taylor.
Issue 1799

THE MYTH that workers are better off with the flexible labour market in Britain has been powerfully exposed in a new report. Workers are working harder for more hours and under greater stress than they were ten years ago, according to research in Britain’s World of Work-Myths and Realities by Richard Taylor.

‘As the 24-hour, seven-day working week gains ascendancy, the possibility of achieving a satisfactory work-life balance is proving an elusive goal for more and more people,’ says the report. This is the cause of the widespread insecurity and disillusion so many people feel.

Yet Tony Blair praises ‘restructuring’ in the workplace that has led to increased pressure on workers and given them less rights. He thinks it is the model workers in countries across Europe should face. Some 2,466 employees in various sections of the workforce were asked in the report to assess their working life in the year 2000 compared with ten years ago.

A major part of the research was workers’ discontent over the hours they work. This has increased since 1992. The number of men who said they were content with the hours they worked has dropped from 35 percent in 1992 to 20 percent. Some 51 percent of women were happy with their working hours in 1992, but this had fallen to 29 percent in 2000.

The report shows that British workers work the longest hours in Europe. Some 46 percent of men and 32 percent of women admitted they frequently worked more hours in addition to their basic week. Three quarters of those who said they worked longer hours reported that it was now a requirement of their job.

A significant portion-some 14 percent-said they would face the sack if they refused to work long hours.

New Labour tries to sell a vision of flexible working where workers can change their hours to meet needs like childcare, choose part time work or working from home, and switch jobs at will. More workers are working flexible hours-a rise from 16.8 percent in 1992 to 22 percent.

But this change has not come from workers having a greater say in what hours they work to help with childcare. Just 10 percent of workers determined their hours of work. This has stayed the same over the last ten years. Most workers admit the boss sets their hours according to the company’s needs.

Public is best

WORKERS IN the public sector are right to fight transfer of their jobs to the private sector under the Private Finance Initiative, according to evidence in the report. Public sector workers are more likely to get benefits like extra sick pay, an occupational pension, the chance of a career break and help with child care. Just 54 percent of private sector workers have an occupational pension, compared to 80 percent in the public sector.

Some 78 percent of public sector workers get sick pay beyond the statutory minimum, compared to 59 percent in the private sector. Public sector workers are also more likely to get more maternity pay than private sector workers.

Class continues to rule our lives

‘THE EXPERIENCES of the workforce remain deeply divided along class lines,’ concludes the report into working life in Britain. This is despite constant claims from government ministers and the media that class doesn’t exist any more. Those in top positions in the workplace in the survey were classified as senior managers and professionals.

They gained most from the various changes in the workplace. They were much more likely to benefit from increased skills and more interesting work. Those who were worse off after changes at work were mainly manual workers who suffered from severe stress linked to unemployment.

Some 27 percent of those unskilled and semi-skilled workers said they had been in their job for less than 12 months. Yet managers said they were much more likely to enjoy a longer period of employment, with only 11 percent saying they had been there for less than 12 months.

The report says, ‘The need to work to make money in order to live is a much stronger motivation among manual workers than among managers and professionals.’

Some 81 percent of skilled manual workers and 70 percent of unskilled said they did more hours to ensure they got more money to live off. Just 5.8 percent said they could decide their working hours, compared to 25 percent of senior managers and professionals.

Some 55.6 percent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, and 47.8 percent of workers, have no say at all in decisions relating to their work.

This compares to 53 percent of managers, who reported they had a lot of say in decisions relating to their work. The report goes on to quote evidence from the Royal Economic Society that the poor are less likely to have a better job or more money.

It concludes there is less social and occupational mobility, and there are widening inequalities in the workplace. ‘Indeed, levels of social exclusion and obstacles to advancement in our society are perhaps greater now than for more than half a century,’ says the report’s author, Richard Taylor.

Not so flexible

NEW LABOUR ministers are constantly telling workers that the world of work has changed forever and the days of permanent jobs have gone. Instead people must accept ‘flexible’ labour on short term contracts. But, as the report reveals, there has been a growth in the number of workers in full time jobs in the 1990s.

As many as 92 percent of workers held permanent contracts in 2000, compared to 88 percent in 1992. The number of workers on fixed term contracts, lasting between one and three years, dropped from 5 percent in 1992 to 2.8 percent in 2000.

Just 3 percent of workers said they worked partly at home, and 1.1 percent work solely from home, a drop from 1.4 percent in 1992. The average time someone spends with one employer is seven years and four months. This has increased from 1992, when it was six years and two months.

Blair’s ‘partnership’ means work harder

WHILE TONY Blair praises ‘partnership’ between bosses and workers, there is little evidence in the survey that workers have any experience of this. Less workers now than in 1992 strongly agree that ‘I would work harder than I have to in order to help this organisation succeed’.

This is no doubt the result of many workers working longer hours and taking rotten pay deals to ‘save’ a company, only to find the bosses go on to announce mass redundancies or a shutdown.

There has been no increase in the number of workers in profit-sharing schemes-some 18 percent of men and 11 percent of women-a figure which hasn’t changed since 1992.

‘Partnership’ has not lessened management’s control over the workforce. Some 58.8 percent of workers said someone formally assessed their work on a regular basis. This is an increase of 6 percent since 1992.

Around 30 percent of workers said this assessment affected how much money they were paid. Some 58 percent said it affected their prospects at work.


Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance