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So, What is ‘Lefty in a business school?’

An introduction about me and what my blog will be about…..

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Hello everyone!

Thanks for stopping by…..

My name is Brian Finlay and I live in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, Scotland and this is my blog! You’re all most welcome here……

I love to write about politics and business related policy. I have over 18 years experience of working in the service sector in a shop floor capacity and at strategic management level.

I am currently studying my MSc in Human Resource Management at Strathclyde Business School and like to see the area of business through a critical lens. Being in a business school environment can be challenging for someone who votes Scottish Green Party and feels regulation is the way forward to tackle our deep routed inequality in the UK. This can be seen as ‘lefty’ or counterproductive to the ‘entrepreneurial spirit of the UK’. I tend to see it as just caring about people; especially with the power differences between employers and employees. I decided to finally start my blog after thrice fracturing my ankle and receiving an operation to correct the damage and realign my talus bone. What this means is, I’ll be on couch/bed rest for 12 weeks so this is a way of keeping me sane but also putting into place a dream of mine of blogging and writing opinion pieces.

I support Scotland being an independent country, again not massively popular in the business arena, and could see huge opportunities to shift towards a fairer society not relying on fossil fuels and exploitative working practices. The renewable energy sector could be the new bread and butter of Scotland’s economy with more innovation and funding alongside tourism and food and drink. We could be a successful small economy with principles, such as Iceland introducing compulsory gender equal pay and Finland trialing Universal Basic Income.

I write opinion pieces mostly and have many letters published in national newspapers. I wanted to take the next step in my writing journey to attempt to intrigue and engage others. I will, over the next few weeks post my letters from the past year as many challenge political rhetoric and the world of business. This will help you understand my motivations and passions further.

Business and enterprise can be used for good, there are many examples of fantastic social enterprises across Scotland and the rUK, or it can be used to exploit people for profit. Sadly, the latter seems to be most common with precarious work on the rise and working conditions continuing to be ground down to a pulp by The Conservative Government.

Please get in touch on and let me know your thoughts:

Twitter: @BSFGreen

I don’t respond to rudeness or trolls as silence indicates exactly how much time will be given to their points of view.

Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery very but in the interim; I’ll be writing to my hearts content…

Why the airstrikes in Syria is Theresa May’s biggest contradiction…

We can afford to drop bombs abroad but we cannot afford welfare provisions at home?

On the evening of Friday the 13th of April 2018, on Theresa May’s Government’s word, the UK took part in ‘limited and targeted air strikes’ on Syrian soil. Following French and U.S. word, we dropped bombs to degrade Syria’s chemical weapon abilities. The strikes were a reaction to the chemical attacks on innocent civilians in Douma: near Damascus in the south of Syria. I do agree with Theresa May that chemical attacks on civilians are ‘horrific and abhorrent’, but I don’t believe dropping bombs in the region is the answer. We are fanning the flames of a seven year civil war in Syria and creating a stronger case for ‘Islamic State’ to see us as the enemy. Not only that, but we risk injuring innocent civilians in these targeted airstrikes and we cannot be sure the intelligence we are working from is correct; just as it wasn’t in Iraq. With Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict and vetoing diplomatic efforts in the UN it does make the Syrian situation seem near impossible to fix.

I have been appalled by the images of the innocent bystanders in this war and the ego massaging that has gone on between May, Macron and Trump, amongst others, disgusts me. I do feel there is an alternative motivation for this war wether that be oil, power or just ego building I cannot decide.

This article is to call out Theresa May on her biggest contradiction of shaking the famous magic money tree and finding just enough money for ‘targeted’ and ‘successful’ airstrikes on Syria. However, there is not enough cash left over to lift the UK out of Austerity or even house child refugees who are potential victims of barbaric acts of violence from Assad; or indeed the ‘West’. Millions of people are displaced in Syria and millions have fled risking exploitation and rejection in which ever country they may end up in. Whatever rhetoric we get fed Austerity is a choice made by the Conservative Government but we can always find money for war when it comes knocking. However, we can never seem to be able to find the money to help the vulnerable at home or abroad when it comes to refugees.

Since the 2015 General Election result, where the Conservatives won a slim majority in the House of Commons, the Austerity regime was maintained and in some areas of fiscal economic policy it was strengthened. Controversial plans to cap family welfare provisions to just two children and produce the ‘rape clause’ as a form of ‘goodwill’ was to ‘take pressure off the public purse’. The role out of Universal Credit was to ‘save money to the tax payer’ and help facilitate getting ‘the national deficit down’. The Conservative supporting media and Conservative MPs themselves stigmatise claimants as scroungers and blame disabled people for ‘our low productivity’ as a nation. The amount of people using foodbanks across the UK because of the heartless decimation of the welfare state, sanctions initiative within Universal Credit and growing in-work poverty due to poor regulations around precarious work continue to increase.

Since 2010 the Conservative led coalition have imposed a 1% pay cap on public sector workers because ‘we need to get our house in order’ causing in-work poverty due to an employee’s pay rise not meeting living costs increases over the past eight years. The NHS in England, which is the sole responsibility of the Conservative Government, was described by The British Red Cross to be in the state of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in 2016/17 due to funding cuts all rolled out by Governments since 2010. Patients were being treated in ambulances outside hospital buildings and charities were stepping in to support ambulance services in some parts of England.

Yet, during this time of Austerity, the Conservatives increase defence spending and invest more in our military. They even voted in favour of renewing our Trident nuclear weapons capability to the tune of up to £306 billion over a decade. These are weapons of mass destruction that could cause ‘horrific and abhorrent’ suffering to innocent people here in the UK and completely destroy life wherever it is targeting. Nuclear weapons are essentially chemical weapons, yet we bomb other countries for ‘having’, in the case of Iraq, or using, in the case of Syria, chemical weapons. I am aware that these chemical weapons used in Douma were more localised but we hold weapons that could cause more destruction and harm just a 45 minute drive up the road from Glasgow. Around 75 innocent people lost their lives in the chemical attack in Douma, but how many civilians could be killed or injured by fuelling tensions in the region with airstrikes?

Theresa May pleads her case for deciding to authorise targeted airstrikes in Syria as a difficult one. The minority administration did not not even call an urgent debate in the House of Commons, which is currently not sitting, or a vote but she consulted only with her cabinet who backed the action with French and U.S. allies. They backed airstrikes as a knee jerk reaction to the terrible attacks on the people of Douma. They say it is in the ‘national interest’. Well, if spending millions of pounds on airstrikes based on ‘hearsay’ is to benefit the people of the United Kingdom we can easily lift the Austerity regime and house refugees fleeing the ‘horrific and abhorrent’ scenes in Syria.

Brian Finlay

MSc HRM Student

#LeftyInABusinessSchool

Here’s a tip….leave servers tips alone!

Profit maximisation should never happen on the back of the underpaid and overworked employees…..

The debate around front of house staff and their tips has appeared in the media again after TGI Fridays policy proposal to strip 40% of card tips from front of house staff. The idea has been floated to give the kitchen staff the 40% of the servers card tips in lieu of a pay rise. The trade union Unite will ballot members at two of the TGI Friday restaurants to propose strike action and a protest has been planned in front of one of their flagship branches.

So what!? Well I think it is important to see company policy proposals like this in context. Hospitality, and the service sector in general, is one of the lowest paid sectors in the UK and the staff in hospitality are among the most likely to be on zero hour contracts (ZHC). The front of house staff are more than likely on The National Minimum Wage (NMW) and some employers target younger staff for the simple reason to pay the lower bands of NMW. After all, it is cheaper to have 16-25 year olds working than anyone over the age of 25. This intention is often masked by having young staff ‘repressing the fun brand and their target customer’ in the restaurant, which may hold some truths, but I’d argue it is to decrease operational costs and increase profit.

As someone with over fifteen years’ experience in the service sector, in both retail and hospitality, I have seen the degradation of working conditions and the control mechanisms first hand. The increased utilisation of scripting and technological monitoring controls the employ to act in a way the employer desires. The technology can monitor an employee’s average spend and rank staff from low to high performers; which can be used in performance reviews or prioritising who gets the hours. Regardless of their fluffy employer branding or ‘bring your personality to work’ you must act in a certain way at a certain intensified pace. You are constantly at risk of having your shifts cut short or all together which can lead to financial instability. This can vary from company to company but it is common practice. I’ve been the manager having to make difficult decisions about not recruiting new staff and intensifying the workload of my team to squeeze out a little more profit for the shareholders. I’ve had to performance manage or discipline staff for not following procedures due to rushing through their workload or having stock stolen from their shop-floor even though they don’t have the resources to maintain company standards. I see it now through a critical lens, but I didn’t back then.

So what does this have to do with TGI Fridays and their new tipping policy. Well, it reduces the tips kept by the front of house staff. As a waiter all through my undergraduate degree and recent MSc tips were what I lived off. It was my pocket money and it was the reason I stayed at my waiting job as it funded my studies. Secondly, TGI Fridays is not giving a pay rise to their kitchen staff they are using tips left by customers’ for the good service they have received. This means the company will make more profit by taking tips off front of house staff and giving it to the kitchen staff to increase their wages. This is what I see to be wrong in this situation, the pay rise should come from the company not the front of house staff.

Now, I have no issues with tips being split fairly between front of house staff and kitchen staff. The two would not be able to perform their job without each other. In Pizza Hut, where I worked for four years during my studies, kitchen staff are on a slightly higher wage than front of house staff and receive 30% of card tips from the floor. This has always been the way since customers could leave tips via card; which started in late 2016. All cash tips were kept by the server that was responsible for looking after the table but was not distributed. A separate article could be written about the ethics and fairness of pulling tips and redistributing them but this article is focussing on tips being used to increase company profit.

Tips should not be used to top up wages. There have been horrendous examples of this in Las Iguanas and other restaurants in the UK. The NMW should come from the company in exchange for the employee’s labour and any uniform which must be purchased should be subsidised by the employer. There has also been cases of companies having to back pay because they forced staff buy specific shoes or trousers for work; these should be provided or reimbursed. As for tips, these should be between the staff and the customer. Different systems operate between employers but management and the company should not benefit from gifts being left by customers with the intent to reward the employees effort and the service they received.

If the employees’ were to benefit from keeping their own tips it could be a contributing factor of why the employee may stay in the job and potentially encourage them deliver better levels customer service. The benefits to the employer could be staff retention and the increased likelihood of customer satisfaction. This positive employment relationship could be nurtured by paying employees fairly and by providing good quality and interesting jobs. Allow front of house staff to serve customers with their own personality not following rigid scripts. Allow the kitchen staff to be creative and deliver high quality food within the remit and the standards of the organisation. Leave tips out of pay, and do not use gifts left from customers for profit maximisation.

Brian Finlay

MSc Student in HRM

#LeftyInABusinessSchool

Money buys political power, this isn’t democracy…

After the allegations around Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica serious questions need to be asked.

In the past few weeks the discussion around money and power have dominated the mainstream media. If it’s not Russian diplomats paying £40k to play tennis with Boris Johnson, it’s allegations of Vote Leave moving money around between BeLeave, AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica. The incidents of not so long ago scandals of the Panama and Paradise papers which documented the wealthiest in our society hiding assets away in tax havens have long been forgotten in political discourse. Oh, and remember the Conservatives and Lib Dem’s being investigated for election fraud at General Elections; that investigation didn’t provide any solutions to the problem or prosecutions just fines and no by-elections. The problem is this kind of blatant opportunism is an attack on democracy and shows how money buys power, to get power you need money – so the rest of us are stuffed!

We can see huge variations in the value of donations each political party receives on the run up to elections. Prior to the snap General Election last year the Conservative’s managed to raise around £25 million and Labour raised around £9.5 million. Amongst the other UK parties the Liberal Democrat’s raised nearly £4.5 million and the SNP raised around £600 thousand; most of which came from a single lottery winning doner. Other parties such as UKIP, Greens and Plaid Cymru raised less than £330 thousand between them. However, on the run up to the General Election in 2015 UKIP had a single donation of a million pounds from Arron Banks, an entrepreneur, who has broken ties with the depleting party.

The difference in financial donations is startling. The Conservative Party received donations of nearly £10 million pounds more than all the other political parties put together. It is important to point out that the snap election caught political parties by surprise as it was called with no warning. The UK parties had less time to collect money from coffers.

Instant access to cash, in the instance of the snap election, was crucial for a successful campaign. Even with an absolutely terrible campaign, useless leader and growing grass roots support for Corbyn money still won the election. Even though the Conservatives lost their majority the winners were the Conservatives which have paid around £1 billion, in tax payers money, to the DUP in a ‘supply and demand’ deal to remain in power.

This is clearly unfair, but there is nothing in place to regulate a level playing field when it comes to total donations to parties only how they are spent. This has however not resulted in any action taken to parties apart from fines; which they can afford to pay. It’s like having a race with varying types of cars and engine sizes; it wouldn’t happen in any other context. Moreover, when the allegations were made about Cambridge Analytica, about the recent fraudulent or ‘dodgy’ events surrounding Vote Leave, the Electoral Commission had to give seven days notice to gain access to offices and IT systems. I’m no tech expert but I am pretty sure a few delete buttons were pressed and data destroyed in seven days before the access was granted. The powers must be given to these autonomous bodies to make sure that fair and transparent campaigns are taking place and democracy is protected. We hear of Russian interference in elections but I am more concerned about the interference of the wealthy few in our own country supporting ideological shifts in UK politics and drastically to the right.

Questions must be answered about these allegations about money being pumped through different organisations around Vote Leave. As Caroline Lucas suggested on Andrew Marr over the weekend (25/03/18) “This puts weight behind having a people’s vote on the deal secured by Theresa May from the European Union”. If the £350 million pounds for the NHS and Turkey joining the EU tomorrow narrative was not grounds for ratification of the result these revelations pick holes in the legitimacy of the EU Referendum result. If The result was swung to the 1.9% majority on breaches to spending allowances on the Vote Leave a referendum on the deal must be offered to the UK.

Money and power will always be linked whilst we exist with a neo-liberal unregulated economic paradigm. Success will always be easier for those with money and it will remain that way as long as power can be bought without real consequences. It is up to us to to vote for change and engage with peers and neighbours as that is the only election method that has more success rate than money fuelled electioneering and physiological marketing.

Brian Finlay

MSc HRM student

#LeftyInABusinessSchool

As a student, I support the UCU strikes by lecturers….Do you?

Teaching and research has halted across the UK and as students and public we should support the right to strike….

As many of you will have noticed, the university lecturers are striking again. They are disrupting our great universities up and down the UK and grinding research to a halt. How dare they!? Students pay thousands of pounds in tuition fees to get educated and classes are being cancelled! It is unacceptable. Correct, it is unacceptable , it is unacceptable that university officials have allowed this disagreement of lecturers working conditions and pensions get to this stage and into the third consecutive week of strike action. This strike includes not just the lecturers themselves but support staff, librarians and counselling staff too.

If you think it is unfair and ridiculous too you are probably right but students should not blame the disruption on lecturers. They are striking for very valid reasons and as students we should place the blame firmly on the universities. The management of the universities have not been able to manage their employment relations and this is impacting on the service received by students. I stand in solidarity with the lecturers to pensions and their working conditions. You, as a student, can support the strikes further by emailing your principle and not attending class during the times of the strike and informing the university on why you are not attending. If you are not a student then get sharing posts on social media to express solidarity if you can.

Why do I support the collective right to strike?

Well, I am an MSc student studying Human Resource Management and within the subject area of employment relations and I am aware of the complexity it is to strike. This was not done on a whim, as the days of ad hoc strikes are well and truly over. In fact, strikes are a thing of the past in most private companies across the UK due to the hoops employees have to jump through. Moreover, private companies can choose not to acknowledge a trade union and not allow their staff to collectively organise at all. The Conservative Government introduced the Trade Union Act 2016, on top of their butchering of trade union rights and controlling employment relations legislation in the 1980s, which makes striking very difficult.

A strike ballot vote, which is compulsory, must have at least 50% member turnout at a specific location to be made a legal strike. To put that in context the turnout to the last Scottish Holyrood elections was only 55% and the Council Elections this year was only 46.9%, meaning the latter would not have been deemed legal under these conditions. The decision to have a strike also has to get over 40% of the total votes in support of strike action and have 50% of the members turned up to vote. This new legislation also means that fourteen days’ notice is required, as opposed to the traditional seven days, which allows a longer negotiation time before the strike is due to take place and also for the organisation, in this case the universities, to sort our cover for the classes and to try and undermine the strike. In my experience this has not been done at my university and classes have just been cancelled.

As a society we need to publicly back the ability to take part in collective industrial action across all of our sectors. This is so important because the neo-liberal ideology under Conservative and New Labour Governments have made it more and more difficult to strike over the past forty years.

But being a lecturer is a well-paid job with great benefits surely?

Not entirely no. As a higher education sector there is huge inequality between the pay at the top, with Strathclyde’s principle being paid over £335,000 per annum, and those on the bottom of the hierarchy. The top five university principles in Scotland take home around 1.2 million pounds per year between them; plus accommodation and expenses. Many entry level teaching tutor positions and PhD students work on zero hour contracts. This is wide spread across all universities in the UK and this is particularly unfair as many of the employees in this position will have paid out tens of thousands in tuition fees. This precarious working model can create high levels of financial and career uncertainty for these individuals and could impact on their ability to deliver their job role to a high standard. What this illustrates is many of the tutors that hold student’s seminars or plan lectures in an MSc course that costs around £10,000 per pupil could be on a zero hour contract or hired through an agency; this is scandalous.

Another common type of contract that is used within academia is temporary or rolling contracts which are renewed on a specified time basis. These contracts could be renewed every year which provides limited career or financial security for these academic staff. This is clearly a ploy for profit maximisation and is expressing lack of investment in the teaching aspect of universities. This also suggests that the focus for academics and universities is firmly in research which is the biggest money maker for universities.Why do I support the UCU strike specifically?The crux of the current University College Union (UCU) strike is because of threat to the lecturer’s pensions and their working conditions. Some of these are the ‘lucky’ staff who have permanent contracts and have job security but now the proposed changes to the lecturers working conditions could introduce more ‘controlled’ working conditions and threats to their pensions. A good lecturer can deliver a great student experience when they have job satisfaction and they have passion for their topic. This assertion is really basic HRM best practice for all highly skilled job roles and the way to install job satisfaction is through job security, competitive rewards, autonomy and flexibility; all of which lecturers are striking to defend.

The universities have entered into a consumerism model of selling great education to students to improve their career chances and improve employability skills. This would make students the consumer in the model created by the university. Students are the customer in this employment relations labour process and we can choose to align our support with the management or with the employee; in this case the lecturers.

I stand in solidarity with the UCU union members. Do you stand with them too?

Brian Finlay – MSc Human Resource Management Student

Twitter: @BSFGreen

#LeftyInABusinessSchool

Oooooh Jeremy Corbyn….poorly paid agency workers aren’t just migrants

Let us focus on the real reasons why job quality and pay is so low across the UK!

Like many on the left I was optimistic when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. I was happy to see him fend off the centrist Labour MP’s such as Liz Kendall and latterly Owen Smith to be the leader of the opposition in Westminster. I was hopeful that the UK had a leader of the Labour Party that believed in the scrapping of our Trident nuclear weapons and ending Austerity. I find myself wanting to cheer him on but get disappointed when I hear him acknowledge the ‘will of the British people’ in the 52/48 EU referendum to end freedom of movement. I got even more disappointed when Jeremy Corbyn stood on a manifesto, in June 2017, which supported the renewal Trident nuclear weapons; outvoted by his own party to do so. I lost all faith when he addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference this week and delivered a speech which blurred an issue of poorly paid agency workers with migrants coming to this country. This has pandered to the controlling of mass immigration narrative which has been made to be a major factor for the working condition woes in the UK which is completely unfounded. Poor pay and working conditions are stagnated and driven down in the UK labour market because the National Living Wage (NLW) is low, precarious work is unregulated and jobs are being deskilled because of automation and centralisation of power structures.

Agency workers in areas such as manufacturing and hospitality sectors in the UK have historically been accepted and normalised. In fact, organisations such as Amazon and Ryanair still use agencies to staff their business. Different organisations use agency staff to different extents.  Amazon has both their own employers and agency staff working in the back office and on the warehouse floor alongside each other. This allows them to quickly increase their workforce to the business needs and when workload demand increases. Ryanair’s has a slightly different approach where their cabin crew and customer service staff are from agencies and their pilots are employed by Ryanair. This is known as marketisation where different specific areas of an organisation can be tendered out to an agency or in some cases third party companies; this is common with cleaners or maintenance for example.

These types of working arrangements can cause huge problems for employment relations and attempting to collectively mobilise staff to strike, or collectively bargain, as employees all work for different organisations or agencies and have unique terms and conditions of work. This fragmentation of the workforce dilutes any power the collective employees may have had to strike and means that, where trade unions are even acknowledged within the organisation, the strike will only impact on a small section of the business and have limited impact on the organisation’s ability to function and produce profit. It is important to acknowledge this is not accidental and organisations have adopted marketisation for this reason to ensure the employer holds the power and prevents, as much as possible, strike action taking place and it allows them to tender out parochial, specialised or in some organisations low skilled job roles.

I believe this is the issue that Mr Corbyn wants to address in relation to his speech at the Scottish Labour Party conference but what he did, which may be unintentional or possibly not, is talked about this issue in relation to cheap agency workers migrating to this country from abroad. I was shocked to see these words come out of his mouth and sounded like dog whistle politics of mass immigration driving down the wages and quality of work in the UK. He has previously stated that with the EU referendum result he would want to see the end of free movement of people because of ‘genuine concern over immigration by the electorate’ but, as a socialist leader, he should be standing up and arguing the case for free movement. Moreover, he should be specifically highlighting areas of the country which need immigration to continue to function such as here in Scotland. We have a declining population numbers overall and an ageing population, we have an urgent need to attract immigrants. By closing the door to the single market we stop the free flow of people from the EU and speeches like this could make us seem unwelcoming. The underpaid agency worker issue could be policed with the legal framework we already have; regardless to where that worker has come from.

It has been known, since the debate of introducing the National Minimum Wage (NMW), that the offer of meals, refreshments and accommodation from an employer can be offset from an employee’s wages. This means that if an employer is paid the ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) they can have accommodation and cost of meals taken from their pay packet resulting in the employer having to part with less money to the employee. This type of working arrangement can be occupied by anyone not just workers from abroad. These types of adverts exist on Gumtree every summer for remote hotels in the north of Scotland and such like. The fact is agency workers are already protected under UK employment law to receive at least the NMW under the UK Governments Rights for Agency Workers. I do believe that a threshold should be put in place to ensure agency workers are not paying over the cost price for in-work accommodation and meals. A comprehensive framework is needed to ensure that employees are receiving company perks at production cost incurred to the business and the employer is not pocketing additional profit by exploiting agency workers in this manner.

The desirability of agency workers, from my extensive research in the hospitality sector, has reduced in the last ten years due to the adoption of zero hour contracts (ZHC). The use of these contracts, which contributes massively to in-work poverty and degradation of the power held by the employee in the UK, gives the employer similar flexibility benefits they traditionally had with agency staff. The use of these types of contracts rose by 300% in 2015-16 and is most common in service sector work. The ZHC is also more attractive as they do not have to pay agency fees. Agency fees can be particularly expensive and could cost the employer double the hourly rate than it would be to have their own employee but it did give the employer to stability of staff ‘on tap’ but this can now be achieved through ZHC’s. The use of ZHC’s as a method of employment tends not to suit skilled manual labour or specialised jobs which may amount to agency workers in these fields; for both indigenous and migrant workers.

The European Union is looking to change laws and regulations to migrant temporary agent workers which may not match ‘our’ values. There have been multiple treaties and policies that the UK has either managed to not sign up to or negotiate progressive changes at the ratification stage. Jeremy Corbyn talks of these potential EU developments in employment policy, which we won’t be part of as we’re leaving the EU if he gets his way, but neglects to reassure the audience what domestic levers could be used. I found the speech to be clouded and he was confusing incredibly important issues with migrant labour when it really didn’t need to be; as it’s an issue across the entire UK workforce.

It is clear that if Jeremy Corbyn genuinely wanted to help with this issue he could have dealt with it without referring to migrant agency workers. I don’t feel it was appropriate or relevant to do so, especially with all the misinformation and falsely created tension around immigration. I do feel it was opportunistic and yet he chose to make that speech in one area of the UK where we are crying out for migrant workers to come and join our workforce in Scotland. If Corbyn really had an understanding of what Scotland needs he would back Scotland having all immigration and workers’ rights devolved to Holyrood. This way we could see the end exploitative precarious working conditions and set an immigration policy that reflects our values and our needs for the future.

Brian Finlay – MSc Human Resource Management Student

Twitter: @BSFGreen

#LeftyInABusinessSchool

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

A nation of powerless workers and inequality

The name Margaret Thatcher is one that resonates with more or less every single person the UK. It is met with scoffing or near hatred by most working class and a sense of pride and ‘Britishness’ with others. The connotations of the stern and confident female leader is enough to make any Conservative Party supporter weak an the knees and think of the good old days. The days when LGBTIQ+ rights in the classroom were silenced and we used excessive force against Argentinian navy ships to install British pride. Let’s face it, they’re certainly not getting the Iron Lady 2 with Theresa May who is as strong and stable as mercury at room temperature but just as ‘likeable’ to the majority of the working class.

The discussion of having a statue of Thatcher erected outside Westminster has gone on for sometime now. It seems to have surfaced again more recently with supporters across the political spectrum. I understand she was the first female Prime Minister but I don’t feel that justifies being set in stone, or in iron with a large swinging handbag as some doting commentators have joked, especially since we are all standing on the monument to Thatcherism. We stand in country with a welfare state that is being decimated, bureaucratically alienated from it’s users and stigmatised by the right wing press and the ‘just about managing’.

We live in a country with a shameful social housing sector which was sold off for state profit with Maggie’s ‘vote winning’ right to buy scheme. Yes this allowed many working class people to own a property but it has residualised social housing and saw the decline of the desire-ability of housing estates once sought after under state ownership. I could go on and on about other ideological policies that inflicted harm on the working class people of the UK in the 1980’s but discussing the Poll Tax needs it’s own blog or political essay.

When Thatcher came into power in 1979 she had won to fight the unions. The ‘winter of discontent’ had triggered a political shift to Conservatism and she brought her ‘traditional school teacher’ attitude to politics. A strong woman ‘of the people’ to take on the male domination of Trade Unions who were, in Thatcher’s opinion, scuppering the UK’s productivity and holding public services to ransom. The planned and aggressive butchering of trade union rights through the plethora of legislation passed transformed employment relations in this country. Simultaneously her government went on to sell off public utilities including coal mining, gas providers and water.

The ideological assumption was that a competitive market would improve service delivery, keep costs down and the productivity in these industries would be improved; look how that has worked out. This was a turbulent time for manufacturing as a whole and the working class communities right across the country. The miner strike of 1983/84 is a prominent memory and artefact in history of how aggressive and ideological Thatcher’s regime was in empowering employers and weakening trade unions and the employees. This whole period of time could be, and actually has, it’s own textbook but fast forward to today we see that ideology played out in favour of Thatcher. The neo-liberal agenda and quest for a free unregulated market was not accidental and was not halted or minimised under 13 years of a New Labour government.

Today where huge industrial estates and other hard industry once stood we see retail parks and leisure parks. Where small independent businesses used to occupy our high streets we see national and multi-national chain corporations occupy those sites which still remain open. In Scotland around 25% of the working population work in the service sector including retail, sales or hospitality. Just under ten percent of Scot’s work in hotels or restaurants. Traditionally the vast majority of the Scottish workforce was employed in manufacturing, production, energy extraction or manual labour. Some commentators assert the reduction in this type of work is because much more women are now in the workplace, which takes up just over 40% of the today’s workforce, but this is down to the decimation of industry which is echoed in areas like Northern England and parts of Wales.

This is significant because service sector workers tend not to have collective representation or be represented by trade unions; hindering their bargaining power with employers. In fact unions in the UK have seen membership decline massively and only have ‘real’ authority remaining within the public sector. However, public sector trade unions are under attack from Theresa May’s government with the austerity lead public sector pay cap weakening the only strong remaining trade union movement in the UK. In the UK’s service sector is where we see some of the lowest wages, precarious working conditions and low skilled repetitive work. Many of these jobs have face-to-face customer interaction 100% of the time which exposes the employee to high levels of exhausting emotional labour which can lead to burnout.

The precarious types of employment can manifest in zero hour contracts (ZHC) or as ‘self-employed’ style of working with a central employer; referred to as the ‘gig-economy’. If an employee is on a ZHC have no guaranteed amount of working hours per week from their employer. This gives the employer the ability to have the manpower when it is required but scale down and not have pay employees when they’re not needed. This can also make it possible for employers to stop giving hours to employees that don’t ‘fit’ or don’t produce high levels of productivity. Having hours cut or removed completely is common if a staff member is ‘problematic’ or seen to be a trouble maker; meaning the employer holds nearly all the power. This type of working conditions are expected in retail and hospitality and becoming more and more normalised and widely accepted as ‘how it is’ these days. Employees with limited influence or power can do very little and as these jobs are relatively low skilled a disgruntled employee can be replaced relatively easily and quickly.

The gig-economy is a self-employed type of working arrangement with a single employer. This means you’re a worker for that employer but not an employee of them meaning you don’t receive all the same benefits or rights as employees. This is common in the growing courier companies, such as DHL and Hermes, where employees must rent their vehicle, uniforms or even buy the fuel for delivering the parcels. This model of employment is also present in companies such as the taxi firm Uber. This manifests by an app providing drivers with the customer pick ups and have they have their service scored and graded by the customer. The employee can also be monitored centrally by management to ensure their productivity, working hours and even levels of customer service are above targets; set by management. What we now see in the new employment age is employees being controlled by an app on their phone which they require to utilise to gain access to work. The Conservative Government ‘investigated’ these types of employment practices and recently imposed these employees must receive the National ‘Living’ Wage and be entitled to annual leave but they did not address the core issues of power, control and the really precarious nature of the job. In companies that adopt the gig-economy model can revoke the offer of work for that day with no notice or state they are not meeting the required standard of work and not offer work going forward. This cuts out the very lengthy performance management procedure and prevents the employer being taken to tribunal.

These two common manifestations of precarious work have installed uncertainty, in-work poverty and further job degradation and deskilling. The jobs are designed to be as simplified and controlled as possible, often by technology as the first contact ‘line manager’, resulting very little autonomy. It is known that job satisfaction and organisational commitment predominantly comes from autonomous flexible work but in the precarious age of work it’s more profitable to have de skilled, repetitive and highly controlled types of job roles.

So what has this created? What does it have to do with Margaret Thatcher? The answer is a nation of powerless workers and the employer holding most, if not all, of the power. The precarious and low paid jobs occupied by a chunk of the Scottish workforce result in employees essentially being trapped in in-work poverty and uncertain financial position due to having no employment security. In the hospitality sector, where less than 2% of the workforce has trade union membership, this is the kind of working practices that are on offer. In our contemporary labour market, which is amongst the most unequal in the ‘developed’ world, we see cases of CEO’s being paid 125 times more than junior member of staff. We see the need and utilisation of foodbanks increase every month due to in-work poverty and the implementation of the heartless Universal Credit welfare reforms. This is extreme Thatcherism. An unregulated employment market free from collective bargaining and trade union interference. We all live and work in the monument sculpted by Thatcher’s governments ideological ideals, and this monument has been embellished by New Labour and Coalition/Conservative governments that served after her. We don’t need reminded by a glorified statue outside the Palace of Westminster because we are reminded everyday. Reminded that in the sixth largest economy in the world the wealth inequality is scandalous and it is an eye sore. Let’s look at building on that rather than fawning after a Prime Minister that inflicted such social harm on the people she was elected to represent.

Brian Finlay – MSc Student of Human Resource Management

Twitter: @BSFGreen

Precarious work is snow fun and pay

The reality for those on zero hour contracts can be risk your safety getting to work or go without….

The UK has been taking a battering by Storm Emma which saw Central Scotland get a rare red weather warning from the Met Office. The severe red warning lasted for nearly 24hrs and saw many workplaces close down early on Wednesday the 28th of February. A red weather warning means a danger to life and infrastructure. Although the advice from The Scottish Government was to “not travel unless absolutely necessary” it was reported that lorries had jack-knifed and caused travel chaos on the M80 and other main roads in Scotland. Many drivers were stuck on roads over night which is incredibly dangerous. The weather was so severe that a carer lost her life in Glasgow whilst traveling between clients. My thoughts have been with that carers family and friends all day and how horrible that must have been to get that news. All essential work staff have had to carry on as best they could and we should all pay gratitude and reflect on those people during times of adverse weather.

My article is to illuminate an issue which I spend a lot of time researching through university and follow in UK politics; precarious work and zero hour contracts. In extreme circumstances like this, the injustices of zero hour contracts are highlighted for all to see in a much more obvious way. Many of the people who serve your coffee in the morning, pour your pint in the pub or deliver your Amazon Prime parcels may be subjected to some form of precarious working practices. These can include ‘self-employed’ style working arrangements or no guaranteed hours in an employee’s contract. This means the employer does not have to give hours to an employee but the employee can be called upon to work when the business requires them.

What this means is when an employee’s services are not needed, during a snow storm for example, the shift can be cancelled and they will receive no pay. This can happen the day before, an hour before the shift or even during the shift if the workplace isn’t busy. This can cause financial insecurity for an employee and they could fall into in-work poverty which is a growing trend across the UK.

In situations where an organisation closes due to weather, and they employ staff on precarious working arrangements, the staff member will not be paid for any hours they were meant to be working. There could be situations where good bosses offer to pay holidays for the employees that miss out but I would argue that would be the slim minority. If the organisation was to remain closed for a two or three days that could be a huge chunk of an employees wages gone for that week. Employee’s on these types of contracts are not protected by any legislation which would provide them financial security when their hours are cut; even in weather related instances.

If an organisation was to stay open, which many did despite the red weather warning, then the employee has a dilemma. The management would expect the employee to come into work which could be dangerous or result in walking; as public transport would likely be suspended. I saw on the Better Than Zero social media page stories of retail and hospitality staff being threatened with loosing their job if they never came in to work. This seems alien to many workers as that is unthinkable, or at least illegal, to just sack someone on a hoof. Yes, that is true but an employee on a zero hour contract has no guaranteed hours so that employee could just never be scheduled again to work for that organisation. The threat is very daunting and legitimately worrying for many workers on zero hour contracts. It is quite literally an employee having to choose between risking their well-being by traveling to work or going without pay and potentially loosing their job.

It is absolutely outrageous isn’t it?These types of contracts are becoming more and more common in service work and highly ‘student populated’ workplaces. So much so that in 2015-16 they grew in usage by over 300%. They are also being used in highly skilled jobs too such as university lecturing, tutoring and the social care sector.

The saddest thing about this is in Scotland we have a majority in The Scottish Parliament in favour of banning zero hour contracts. All parties, apart from The Scottish Conservative Party, want to ban or at least heavily legislate and regulate their use. Unfortunately, employment law and policy are reserved to Westminster and The Conservative Government will not regulate these types of working arrangements. They will not do anything about them as it fits with their ideology of the free market and neo-liberalism. These contracts give the employer flexibility to reduce their staffing levels in times of low demand and maintain a stable level of productivity. Having flexibility means that formal redundancy processes do not have to be followed and ultimately means profit maximisation for shareholders. We must continue to put pressure on MPs, and other suitable representatives, to debate precarious working practices and regulate these to help combat in-work poverty. These employment practices are unfair and are not conducive to a healthy and equal economy. They also do not give the employee other common workers rights such as adequate paid leave and sick pay. It is also found that workers on zero hour contracts are likely to be on minimum wage, students or part-time workers and are predominately women.

We should not be using people for short term profit gain. These working practices are not ethical or fair and we should be campaigning collectively to see the end of zero hour contracts and precarious work in general.

What do you think?

Tweet me: @BSFGreen