Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Devaluing labour

Uncle Constantly has a rather marvellous blogpost about The National Talent Bank which I gather is a government backed volunteer broking service, to give those poor unemployed people something to do whilst looking for work.
Now, although the word 'Bank' appears in the title, there's no actual money involved. Oh no. That's all gone. Instead, this is:
"part of the Government’s comprehensive approach to tackling the recession and is designed to ‘share the talent' between the private, public and third sector"
Developed by the Prime Minister's Council on Social Action (who?), The National Talent Bank will:
"act as an intermediary between companies, who are reducing their working hours, frontline volunteering opportunities, and third sector organisations who are best placed to deploy this newly-available talent into effective use in the community."
Unless CF is missing the point, this is just a fucking devious way of saying that the unfortunately newly unemployed (as opposed to the vast numbers of long term, career unemployed) will be able to - instead of squandering their time looking for another fucking job - be of value to the economy and end the recession for ever by doing - what? - voluntary work.

At the same time, the companies who've tried to lay off people to reduce costs will be able to carry on paying those costs while receiving less or even no fucking work from the people they wanted to fire.
There are great clouds of doubt in my head about my theory here, I can almost here Tastyzine berating me, but theory goes like this...

The minimum wage makes it not worth employing anyone who's labour isn't worth £5.73 per hour. Say your business is strawberry picking, anyone who picks less than £5.73 of strawberries per hour is causing the business to make a loss, and so can't be employed unless the company somehow has great reserves of money.

But now with Gordon Brown pushing volunteer work, it drives down the cost of labour. Instead of having a target of £5.73 worth of strawberries to pick an hour to keep your job, a strawberry picking company could let go their entire workforce and just use volunteers. No matter how hard the paid employee works, and how much his labour is worth, there is a government supplied pool of free labour available. So if the company is strapped for cash, even the hardest workers are disposable.

Me, being unemployed, I spend a lot of time fruitlessly searching for work, and get talked into signing up to volunteery things. I see the volunteering opportunities listed and it scares me a little.

Designing a website is a bit of a skilled job, its possible to earn a hundred or so quid designing websites for shops and companies who don't have the skills to do it themselves. But on these volunteering websites there are organisations seeking a volunteer to design their website.

So, its devaluing the task.

Admittedly there are some weird conflicts in my head. I like doing things for free, I like the whole google/youtube/facebook/twitter/open office thing of it being free, you get the service for no money. But is that the same thing as volunteering, doing a job that would be worth £200 for a professional, for free?

Look, its here in Gordon Brown's spiel:-
“The Government will do all it can to support this very British tradition, and National Talent Bank will make it easier for people with valuable skills to volunteer and put their abilities to good use.”
If the skills are valuable, then why is the government reducing the value to nil, to voluntary?

Its releasing the pressure from the wrong side. One of the reasons companies are making people redundant is cos they don't have enough money to pay the people doing the work. What this National Talent Bank thing does is reduce the amount of money the companies need to pay the people doing the work, less money flows out of the company to the employees. The government should be doing things to reduce the amount of money flowing out of the company in other directions, material costs, taxes, time wasted on red tape.

I could be wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I think the point is surely, for many unemployed people to gain some experience, and or skills or something to put on their CV. Many people who volunteer are then offered a paid job if they make themselves valuable and trusted by the company. If you have worked in one industry all your life, then it is a useful way to break into another without having to start from scratch doing expensive courses. There arent typically hundreds of skilled volunteers available, and there is only so much one is prepared to do for free. Pretty soon, a company will realise that if they want more done, they will need to start paying...