Organising labour


Field and the  Wild West of Work

“I don’t care where you do it, how you do it , when you do it – as long as the f-ing work gets done”.  My first boss.

Of course he didn’t mean it- I soon found that flexible working in the early 1980s meant you did your 9 to 5 and a shed load of unpaid overtime as well.

Flexible work practices – don’t you just love’m!

Nobody knows what flexi-time means any more. Work has changed and not always for the better.

That’s why I’m excited  that the Government is commissioning a  study into UK working practices – about time too! I’m really happy that Matthew Taylor , who heads the Royal Society of the Arts (of which I’m proud to be a member), will head the study.

The study will not get much air-time because of the broo-hah-hah of Brexit but I am hoping it will address the new dynamics of what is called the “gig-economy”.

Why do we need this?

The way people are working is changing and the way bosses are engaging with those who do work for them is likely to change as fast.

You’d have thought that this would be an issue for the Labour party but the unions, who should be shouting about this , are too busy defending their subs to reach out to those who have no organisation, no union and little protection.

We’re talking about people who work through UBER, the delivery riders of Deliveroo and the messengers of Hermes. I suspect it’s Hermes that has tipped May into action, In September Frank Field sent her a report “Wild West Workplace”. It details the worst exploitative practices I’ve read about in Britain since I had to read Charles Dickens. The Wild West Workplace at Hermes makes Sports Direct look like a management consultancy.

In the absence of the traditional worker’s representatives, it is left to Field and May to take action. I bumped into Frank Field a couple of weeks ago as he was crossing Whitehall (I was coming out of the Red Lion). I wanted to talk with him about something else but he couldn’t help himself, telling me how pleased and proud he was that he could get a sympathetic ear from the Prime Minister.

If we are to take May seriously when she claims to be on the side of those “just getting by”, I suppose the suspension of disbelief starts here.



May and those just getting by


How do we pay people?

I am an employer, though I have a most odd group of workers! For the past four years I have paid some contractors in India without whom would be nothing. I do not pay them directly, I pay them through a number of intermediaries. I fear that what I pay for their services is nothing like what they get but nobody wants to talk. This worries me.

I pay my head of digital, but I pay his company which employs him and him alone. I’m not happy about this either, I want to move him onto my payroll and we will do as soon as his company year ends. Andy moved out to Manhattan recently and works for us from the Big Apple, it is tricky in terms of time differences and I miss having a beer with him but heh!

Finally I pay my web-chatters. These guys compete for work from Pension PlayPen on their phones and get paid by the chat. I have no idea whether this is ethical or not but students love it as they can earn while they learn. I love it as I get great customer feedback scores. But this really is zero hours stuff and as with my friends in Mumbai.

The rest of the people who work for the Pension Playpen don’t draw a wage, some – like our financial control, submit invoices when they need to and some just keep the show on the road- their reward being in whatever price our shares are worth.

We are not alone, there is an army of small businesses where no-one is getting paid in a conventional way, where concepts like the minimum wage are abstract notions and where trust is paramount. If we want things like the knowledge economy, we have to let people work together like this – this is how capitalism does things.

But we need better understanding and suitable rules.

Pension PlayPen and Hermes are poles apart but we share a common problem. Existing employment legislation just doesn’t fit our employment practices.

And people don’t think they’re in a good place when it comes to job security

“While 92% of people consider job security to be important, only 65% people think their job is secure and 15% think it is insecure – that’s around 5 million people wondering if they will be able to pay the bills each month, or what will happen to the mortgage if they’re suddenly out of work,”

Matthew Taylor’s told the Guardian.

Whether you are an employer or a worker, the world of work is changing. Unions and Government are no longer organising labour to meet labour’s needs.

I’m not sure this enquiry will provide all the answers but it should be able to collect the questions and establish an agenda for Damian Greene and the policymakers in the DWP.

It might even go some way to fulfilling Theresa May’s promises on the steps of Downing Street at her accession.


Matthew Taylor in the RSA House

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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