Category Archives: Employment Law

A coin has two sides

Every coin has two sides and I am beginning to wonder whether or not that is the most important political statement that can be made. On the face of it, that is a ridiculous idea but I will try to demonstrate that it could be the key to the political problems that we face here, in the UK, today.

Personal freedoms are important to many of us – the freedom freely to express an opinion with fear being pretty well at the top of the list. But that freedom creates problems unless it is exercised with great care. I don’t think the idea of one person’s freedom being almost always at the expense of others occurred to me until I stayed with a cousin of mine in the delightful village of Bottmingen just outside Basel. (In passing, I haven’t been there for over thirty-five years and I expect it is now just another suburb of the city so, if you know that to be true, please don’t tell me – I want to remember how it was then).

My Canadian cousin and her Swiss husband had very different ideas when it came to personal freedom. One of the laws (whether local or national I am not sure) stated that at weekends it was forbidden to have a record player or radio on in the garden. As Max pointed out this meant that everyone could be in their gardens at the week ends knowing they would have peace and quiet. Joan, on the other hand, considered this to be as near as maybe an infringement of her personal liberty. That coin had two sides and both side could claim the moral high ground if they wanted to. It is, actually, a political coin.

So who was right, Max or Joan? As a libertarian who, by definition, considers most regulations to be a response to a human failing of one sort or another I find myself siding with Joan. I feel we should be able to rely on the good manners of those with whom we live and that cultural pressures should be sufficient to ensure people respect their neighbours. Yes, I know that is hoping for more than can be expected but regulations reduce the sense of community responsibility within the population generally and I do not believe that to be a good thing.

This all started, I suppose, because I and others became antagonists on Twitter in the matter of the so-called bedroom tax. I explained all this on a previous post (Capping Housing Benefits). For the record, as a result I have now discovered one person who has been adversely effected by that cap and I shall be meeting her soon to hear her side of the story. Why we got ourselves into a muddle was that we did not think of it as being a coin with two sides – which is exactly what it is.

On the one side you have all the people who, often through no fault of their own, are living in housing the cost of which is being borne by the state and on the other side you have all the people who are giving up a part of their earnings in order to meet those costs. In a properly grown-up democracy, we would look at both sides of that coin and seek a modus operandi that removes the present conflicts that are causing so much fear and hostility.

That is a big ask.

Any move to alleviate some of these costs is seen as a personal attack by those to whom the state says, “you are taking more than your fair share of the available resources”. I am pretty certain that if I were to be in that position I would feel the same.

Meanwhile any move to suggest that it is reasonable to increase taxation to meet what could so easily become a bottomless pit (as has the NHS) is seen as an attack on people who would describe themselves as decent, hard-working and responsible members of society who put in far more than they take out.

Both view are, of course, wrong. Both views are, of course, extremely human – as are the people provided for by the state and the people fortunate enough to be able to not only support themselves but to be able to make a contribution to the well-being of others. But we humans are by no means perfect: some are selfish, some are greedy, some are lazy. You will find them on both sides of the coin. Also on both sides of the coin are people who are unselfish, generous and hard working.

So it is that some of those who have been told to find smaller accommodation have (if it is available) said, “Fair enough” and they got on and done it. Some feel the same but can find nowhere suitable without moving away from those who support them or make life worth living: friends and family. There needs to be provision for these since moving them could well increase the overall cost to the state despite a reduction in housing benefit. However, there are also those who seem to seize the opportunity to become victims.

Likewise among those who pay taxes you will find those who say, “There but for the grace of God go I” and are happy to pay higher taxes but there are also those who feel very differently.

Do I have an answer to that big ask? Not really but I have the hint of a suggestion.

During my lifetime I have seen that the people who suffer most when the nation’s “cake” becomes smaller are the poorest and most dependent.

When the national coffers dry up, there is no possibility of increasing welfare benefits and existing benefits tend to be eroded by inflation. Furthermore, reduction in activity in the private field and the need to economise in the public field both add to unemployment – and the unemployed pay very little in tax and need a good deal in benefits. Thus the existing poor become poorer and they are joined by more of their fellow citizens.

When the country is really open for business and doing well, however, welfare benefits can be increased in line with (and possibly above) inflation and more and more people will find gainful employment or self-employment. The existing poor may not be better off but are no worse off and their number drop as more and more people find work.

Thus I want to see a regime that does all it can to increase the size of the national wealth to provide the resources required to support those in need. This can be achieved only be reducing the regulations that strangle the growth of businesses and that will mean that some employees would have to lose some of the protections they presently enjoy. It will also mean accepting that the wealth generates will become wealthier and that the gap between the poorest 5% and the richest 5% will widen.

I do not have a problem with either. This country has been built in large part by people putting themselves on the line and starting their own businesses which means no guarantee of income and no guarantee of the business remaining viable. Compare their situation with those in employment (and especially those in the public sector) and I find myself thinking that it is time these people shared some of the pain. As to the gap between the rich and the poor: I do not mind how rich the rich get but I do want to live in a country where none are suffering from poverty. If the price of lifting everyone above a certain level is a an increase in the wealth gulf, so be it.

However, I want to add another burden on whomever is running the country: yes, get the wealth generating machine running properly but always ensure that you have the compassion to use that wealth for good.

I do not expect my left-wing friends to agree with this.

Marks and Sparks get their knickers in a twist

Not many political bloggers use their blogs to explain that they tend to live in briefs supplied by Marks and Spencer. Indeed, I hear a few voices saying, “enough already – too much information”. Stick with it, I have a serious point to make.

Confession number two: I am over-weight, not much but a bit. My waist measures just under 42 inches in the winter and rather less as summer progresses only to increase again as the weather gets colder. M & S size their briefs using letters: X Large is for those with 30 to 41 inch waists while XX Large covers those more rotund measuring from 42 to 44. No doubt you begin to see the problem. 

All briefs wear out in time – probably because of all that aggressive washing – and some of mine are now ready for retirement. So I wanted some more: ideally I wanted more of the same only, why am I surprised? – my knickers are a discontinued line. So I ordered what I thought would be the closest equivalent. These duly arrived and I sent them back with the following letter which is, I think, self-explanatory. 

Please find enclosed four pairs of trunks recently ordered and supplied as attached paperwork (copies have been kept). 

These are to replace old trunks which are nearing the end of their lives. The old style is no longer available – a 3 part set 6983 789. The size is XX Large. It seemed looking at your web site that the nearest equivalent was the 2 part set 07910227 and so these were ordered in the same size. 

Putting to one side that it is extremely irritating to have a 41½” waist when sizes come in X Large (39-41) and XX Large (42-44), what is astonishing is that the enclosed are so much larger than the ones they are to replace (see photograph). I cannot believe that the old ones have shrunk that much. 

This poses a problem: have they been wrongly labelled and I need XXL or should I have ordered XL? 

If the former, please replace with correctly labelled XXL – if the latter please replace with XL.”

This morning I received an email from M & S thanking me for being a customer and so on – and advising me that my account had been credited with a refund. Grrr. 

Now for the serious stuff. I have been talking about the need to employ more people and the fact that there are times and places when men are better than machines. This is just such a one. I assume that this is all the problem of computers driving people rather than the other way around. No doubt whoever unpacked the return parcel was forced to select one of a limited number of reasons for the return of the goods and the computer took over from then on. My guess is that two boxes were ticked: “wrong size” and “refund”. 

A person reading the letter would have dealt with this situation very differently and I am sure that many reading this would agree that the thought of having to contact “customer services” tends to send a shiver down the strongest of spines. 

We should not blame these companies: employing people to do things better is only acceptable if at the same time they more than cover their costs. In the final analysis, people are an indirect cost that hits the bottom line and should, therefore, be kept to a minimum. This, of course, impinges on the unemployment statistics. Lower the cost of employing people and you encourage employers to use more people: lower the administrative costs of employing people and you encourage employers to use more people. 

Thus there are two areas where the government could do something to help: scrap NI which is no longer a contributory insurance payment (much though politicians would have us believe otherwise) and scrap most of the employment laws leaving behind a general duty of care (which would work both ways: employers having a duty of care to their employees and employees having a duty of care to their employers). Note I say nothing against the minimum wage which should remain in force albeit perhaps with more steps. 

There is a third. Make it far far easier for people to slip into and out of unemployment benefits. Many will not take a temporary job because it is then almost impossible to get back onto benefit in a reasonable time scale. 

Yes, there would be less protection for employees – is that such a high price to pay for a more fluid employment market with less people unemployed? 

What about the loss of revenue caused by scrapping NI? Put it all on income tax: that way you begin to narrow the gap between the net income of poorest and richest (although in this context, many of the “rich” already think of themselves as “overtaxed”). 


The EU, regulations and a haircut.

I know that I have become obsessed by the matter of the relationship between the UK and the EU recently so I will just touch on the subject here. When it was announced that there was to be a vote on the amendment to the Queen’s speech on the matter of a referendum, I emailed my MP – Dr Sarah Woolaston – and asked her which way she intended to vote. As far as I know, she is the only MP to have been selected following primaries held in the constituency (sometimes I wonder whether David Cameron may regret that) so she is a good example of an independently-minded Conservative. She emailed back to say that she would be voting for the amendment so I know that my MP is only too happy to let the electorate decide on this divisive and difficult matter. 

I would add that if my MP had voted against that amendment, regardless of their party I would fight tooth and nail at the next general election to encourage people to vote for someone else. If my MP feels he or she cannot trust their voters, why should not expect to be trusted. 

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The international rules and regulations that control maritime affairs are creating more problems than they are solving – mainly because they have been written with the ship design, manufacturing methods and control systems which applied at the time they were written. They do need to be brought up to date but that raises all sorts of problems in an age where technical advances are so rapid – unless there is a complete rethink they will always be years out of date. 

This is because there is a huge difference between Restrictive Regulations and Risk-based Regulation. The first sets down a list of rules that have to be met. If, as an example, there is then an accident in your workplace, so long as all these rules have been followed, there is only one person at fault: the regulator. Neither the employer controlling the environment nor the person involved in the accident are to blame. The second is very different. An employer is expected to control the workplace environment so as to remove anything that might cause any foreseeable accidents and people working there are expected to behave in a responsible and safe way. 

Restrictive Regulations cost business huge sums of money – obviously making their products or services more expensive – and often fail to meet the particular problems in any particular workplace. These regulations presently include matters of health and safety as well as employment law. A regulation which states quite simply that there is a duty of care placed on all persons involved in the workplace (whether as owners, employers, employees, customers, suppliers or simply visitors), many of these regulations could be removed since almost everything that is presently covered by restrictive regulation would be covered by that simple requirement. Whilst it might not actually save a business costs, it should ensure that what is spent is spent wisely and well. 

The problem is, of course, that in a court of law a piece of paper in the form of a check list is more objective than statements which tend to be of a subjective nature. This is why that most litigious of nations, the USA, will not contemplate Risk-based Regulations for maritime affairs whilst the UK and Norway, for example, use them to cover oil rigs in the North Sea. 

I hope to explore this matter of simplifying regulations and making all individuals more responsible for their actions further and would welcome any ideas that you might have on the subject. 

* * * * *

 And finally, as they say, a friend of mine who is a regular contributor to Twitter tells me of a new venture opening in Newton Abbot in Devon (which is just down the road from here). It is not the best of times to be starting up and it takes a good deal of guts. It is Barbering Corner MR in Queen Street so if you are needing a haircut and you find yourself in Newton, you might like to give them a try.