Thursday, 15 July 2010

British workers aren't lazy - we're run into the ground

A long-familiar story, rehashed every year without fail by the capitalist press, has resurfaced once again.

To get the true flavour of the story, you need to read it as told in the worst sensationalist fashion by the gutter press. So, step forward Daily Mail;
Lazy Britons take more 'sickies' than any other major European country, shocking research has revealed.

The poll highlights the extraordinary work-shy culture among millions of Britons, many of whom just cannot be bothered to go to work.

UK workers pulled more than 35million 'sickies' last year - the equivalent of every worker taking at least one day off.
Yes, that's right - some people "are taking several weeks a year despite being perfectly healthy." Worse than that, "a British worker is more than four times as likely to feign an illness to get time off work than Europe's 'most honest' workforce, the Danish." Cue the appropriate levels of tabloid-inspired outrage.
That is until, of course, you happen upon the truths buried deep within the bowels of the story.

For example, although "only half [of respondents] said [their sickie] was for 'a genuine physical or mental illness'," it emerges that of the rest there were "many saying they had to look after another family member, typically a young child or elderly parent." The lazy, conniving bastards.

Typically, the public sector are worse. The Mail cites the recent "revelation" that "on average, public sector workers took an average of 8.3 sick days last year, compared to 5.8 days in the private sector."

It glosses over the fact that "a sick day includes genuine illness as well as 'sickies'." Indeed, the discrepancy may have more to do with public sector employers being "more likely to be supportive of those with long-term illnesses and have good sickness policies in place."

Meanwhile, as Hannah Kay has written, going off sick can leave private sector workers in a precarious situation for both employment and money;
The sick pay laws in the UK are pretty damn unforgiving. There's basically two types. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Contractual Sick Pay. SSP is the basic minimum that by law every company must adhere to, while the other is entirely voluntary which must be agreed to by the employer. Naturally, employers will only ever give more than the basic minimum in the rare cases when they feel that it's more profitable to do so i.e. when there's a militant workforce prepared to damage profits to get what they need.

With the state of unions and workers' militancy in the UK at an all time low, it shouldn't surprise anyone that most workers rely entirely on SSP, which is a very poor deal. In order to even be eligible to receive a penny in SSP, you must be:

- Off work for at least four days in a row
and
- Earning more than £97 a week

As you can imagine, most cleaners are working part time and earn less than that £97 a week and therefore cleaners are not eligible for any sick pay whatsoever. You may still be able to claim the incapacity benefit, or ESA as it's called now, directly from the Jobcentre, but this will take a very long time to claim and you will receive even less than SSP, which I'll show is already a poor deal.

Even those who are eligible are getting a raw deal. SSP is a rate of £79.15 a week. At best , this is a minimum decrease in pay by about 20%, going up to a 300% decrease for a full time worker on minimum wage and even higher for those above that! You don't even get paid for the first three days at all!
So, public sector workers are not lazier than their private sector counterparts. They're better organised, with unions willing to defend their rights, and have a better employer. But, as ever, the race to the bottom mentality prevails and this is seen as a bad thing.

Returning to the wider issue of British workers apparently being "lazier," it's worth remembering that, aside only from Romania and Bulgaria, we have the longest working week in Europe. We also have the least number of public holidays and of paid holidays in Europe. As one commenter on the Daily Mail website noted, "with the work/life balance well out of kilter, is it any wonder so many sickies are pulled?"

The irony in all this is that the "British workers are more lazy than foreign workers" argument is one used by liberals to counter the "British Jobs For British Workers" line of the reactionary right. That, with immigrants out of the picture, the right will rehash the same bollocks shows their true attitude to the British working class.

Also ironic is the whinge from the CBI and from bosses in general that "fictitious sick leave is costing the UK economy millions."

It has to be remembered that whilst the ruling class complain that workers who call in sick are, effectively, stealing from them ("the economy" being a misnomer for private profit), it is in fact the workers who are being robbed. We are the producers of wealth - our employers being parasites and theives who reap what we sow without lifting a finger.

We need to fight back against a culture wherein workers are afraid to take time for themselves and recuperate from sickness. Having to sell our labour to them is costing us not only the wealth of this earth but our health, our diginty, and our ability to lead balanced, creative, and fulfilling lives.