I used to work for a bank. The messages I received were often mixed. From HR, for whatever reason, the messages were generally supportive and humane. From my most immediate managers, however, the need to hit targets was imperative.
You can imagine how confused I sometimes got.
Nevertheless, health and wellbeing were seen almost without exception by everyone as key concepts for all. One wonders if this was out of a sense of humanity – or out of an understandable fear of legal recourse were anything to happen in a health and safety sense to any of the tens of thousands of employees. Even as I suspect the latter weighed more heavily than it should, there was still an element of the former – without a doubt.
So whether by hook or by crook (that is to say, whether by law or by morality), generally unscrupulous behaviours were indeed kept at bay.
It seems, however, that this will soon all go by the wayside. I say so, for two very good reasons. One, for quite a while now (and as I have been reporting on these pages), the Legal Aid bill going through Parliament at the moment is looking to take out of scope a vast swathe of current legal cases. Over at ilegal we have further evidence, if evidence was needed, of how incoherently (or perhaps not) this is being done:
The government considers social welfare law including employment to be “general advice” and therefore legal aid should be removed from all non-discrimination employment cases. We have already seen how Djanogly is removing legal aid from every level of employment law, so that vulnerable people will not have legal advice at the Employment Tribunal level, or advice or representation in employment in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (purely for points of law), the Court of Appeal in employment cases and the Supreme Court in employment cases.
If consummated, this will presumably lead to situations whereby people will find themselves at the mercy of their own ignorance, without a safe and secure path to obtaining the legal support they might require. This will allow unscrupulous employers (and in times of severe economic crisis, who mightn’t be tempted to become so?) to take even greater advantage of vulnerable workers than they would have otherwise cared to do so.
Meanwhile, these Tories of naked ambition are messing about in a similarly incoherent way (or perhaps not) with respect to a matter I would argue to be of a pretty similar nature. As Paul reports:
So the same GPs who are to be entrusted with the £80bn NHS budget from April 2013 may be stripped of their role in telling people whether they are too sick to work or not:
A new body could decide whether people are fit to work, according to drafts of the Government’s Independent Review into Sickness Absence.
Employers would be able to ask the assessment panel, rather than GPs, to make independent decisions.
It is likely to say that family doctors can be too quick to sign people off on sick leave because there is no incentive for them to help people stay in work.
It hardly needs a physicist to put two and two together and come up with neutrinos which can go faster than light to realise that the attack on Legal Aid and employment law on the one hand coupled with the attack on the confidential nature of the GP-and-patient relationship with respect to matters of employee health on the other are part and parcel of a coordinated break-up – a pincer movement if you like – on employee health and wellbeing.
As well as containing within itself a potentially mighty step forward for corporate profits everywhere.
Which is why I would argue we should not be worried about the unscrupulous employers. They, to be honest, are the least of our worries. Rather, we should fear how many of the supposedly good ones will become sufficiently tempted by such changes for them to choose to retire entirely their erstwhile crumbs of decency.
The recent stories of internships for shelf-stacking jobs only go to show what companies may try and do – when given the opportunity – in order to maximise their earnings at the expense of their workforces.
So it’s not the so-called bad ones we should be frightened of here. They are, at the moment, quite in the minority.
Horses for courses you might say? Be careful what you wish for. Before you know it, we’ll all be getting ready for that grand knacker’s yard in the sky.