As if it’s not enough that the world of work is increasingly polarised by differences in earnings between the board room and the shop floor, UK managers are now being accused of being lazy and lacking a work ethic.
Ratan Tata, super-rich boss of the Tata Group which owns Corus and Jaguar Land Rover, says that “in my experience nobody is prepared to go the extra mile, nobody”.
He went on to say that people weren’t happy about being in meetings that went on until 1800 when they had trains to catch and that on Fridays everybody cleared off at 1530. “In India if you are in a crisis you work until midnight. At JLR the worker is willing to do that but the management is not”. According to Tata these things don’t happen in China or Indonesia, Thailand or Singapore.
He then acknowledged that the new management team is different and does call meetings at 1700 (so why make the comments in the first place at a time when Corus is cutting 1,500 jobs in the North-East and a further 1,200 jobs are at risk?). UK managers may no longer claim to be working the longest hours, but it’s not uncommon for UK managers to be working at least 60 hours a week with all the health risks that entails. Most managers I know would love a better work-life balance.
Tata’s comments have been roundly criticised by the TUC and the British Chamber of Commerce whose director-general said “this is not a world I recognise… business owners and managers have been working all hours to get the job done. Nine-to-five is not part of the British culture”. Perhaps what is more worrying is that Tata is a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group, co-chairman of the UK-India CEO forum, and close to David Cameron.
The GMB National Secretary suggested that “Mr Tata should make sure he employs the proper people to make managers come up to the standards of the workers” and there were numerous letters to the press from hard pressed managers working long hours and then taking work home, consultants arguing for better productivity, and someone from India pointing out that managers in India have maids to look after their children and drivers to get them home, complaining about his comments. And perhaps he is forgetting that leadership starts at the top?
But he’s not the only boss criticising the workers lately. Andrew Rodda, Operations Director at the UK’s largest clotted cream manufacturer where they pay just above the minimum wage, was one of the delegates at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention who was critical of the TUC’s call for pay rises to stimulate the economy. He told the Observer that he thought people wasted too much of their hard-earned salaries – on things like holidays. Rodda, who has boasted in the past of his three holidays a year, thought that rather than pay workers more “there’s more to be gained from teaching employees how to manage their money more effectively than giving them more money to mismanage”.
Cornwall is one of the least affluent areas in England with average full-time earnings of £9.83 an hour compared with the national average of £12.63. Needless to say his comments provoked ire from many quarters not least the TUC which described the comments as a throwback to Victorian days.
If Rodda’s really want to control what workers spend their money on perhaps they should reintroduce paying their workers in tokens as in days of old in the Cornish tin mines. In many industries such tokens could only be redeemed at company shops where prices were often higher than elsewhere. (The practice was outlawed by the Truck Acts in the 19C).
And if employers really want to turn the clock back and cut the number of holidays employees are entitled to they could adopt the idea of holiday dismemberment. Bosses in Shanghai told workers that they had to work as usual on a Chinese national holiday on May 2. The managers revealed a scheme for compensating the workers which they called holiday dismemberment. Instead of receiving another day off in lieu the workers would receive a series of mini-holidays spread over the year.
The 8 hour shift, of 480 minutes, would be spread over the 252 days of the year “allowing staff to enjoy two minutes of holiday every day”. Staff were understandably unimpressed. The idea apparently came from a Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido. and it is not clear whether the idea is actually illegal. So remember when Tata says that we should be more like companies in the Far East what you might be faced with.
We are suffering a recession, due in part to reckless bankers who have been unaffected, and everyone is either working harder or making do on less income – if they still have a job. To suggest we revert to these ideas and working practices is suicidal. Workers have long memories and there will come a time when loyalty or lack of it will be repaid. What we need now is effective leadership and strong employee engagement, not 3rd world labour practices.
Updated 26 May 2011: Tata has just announced that profits have tripled. JLR made over £1billion pre-tax profit last year and saw revenue rise by over 50%.