Monday, 8 October 2012

Rights: now a commodity

George Osborne's big idea to save the economy: Share for Rights:
the chancellor unveiled a £100m "employee-owner" scheme that will allow shares worth £2,000 to £50,000 to be exempt from tax if employees give up certain work rights, such as the right to claim unfair dismissal.
Obviously there's a minor and immediate objection: the economy is not screwed because too many people exercise their rights not to be treated like shit by their employer. Far from it: you can be unfairly dismissed for 2 years before your rights even kick in.

There's another obvious rejoinder to this argument too: if settling unfair dismissal, bullying and harassment suits is costing your company a lot of money, don't lobby government to abolish the right not to be bullied, harassed or unfairly dismissed. Just stop bullying, harassing and unfairly dismissing people. You might find that your organisation improves. That's not all either: it includes further restrictions on maternity and paternity leave too.

No. The real reason why this is such a typically terrible idea is that it reveals a deeply unpleasant conception of humanity at the heart of Conservative discourse. To George Osborne, all interactions between human beings are transactional. Somebody - and often both - gets something out of each exchange. Under his proposals, the right not to be harassed, bullied or unfairly dismissed has a cash equivalent. Clearly the right to look forward to a working life in which you're not humiliated or fired is worth somewhere between £2000 and £50,000. I suspect that a cleaner's mental health is worth £2000 and a lawyer's £50,000 (actually, given that high-earners will have lawyers and out-of-court settlements just like now, this scheme is aimed at drones like you and me).

Accepting the deal is like the kid in the playground making a little extra pocket money by allowing other kids to kick him in the balls. In fact, it reminds me of private schools until recently: you paid them to have the right to physically beat you. Osborne's offered a small cash prize to the greedy or simple to give employers the cast-iron right to duff you up for the rest of your working life.

Still, it gives us some guidelines. If you apply for a job with this kind of contract, you know that the company expects you to be bullied, harassed and discriminated against. If you accept the money, you'll get what you deserve. If you're considering a relationship with someone who sells their dignity for £2000 or £50,000, you know they have no self-respect and that they are probably functioning sociopaths with no higher concept of humanity than material exchange.

Who will accept these contracts? The kind of people who want to appear on The Apprentice. It's my job, as your friend, to say: 'don't be that guy'.

1 comment:

The Red Witch said...

Just when you think things could not possibly get weirder.....